Friday Fable. Jean de La Fontaine’s “THE CAMEL AND THE FLOATING STICKS”*

Posted by jlubans on August 09, 2013

Caption: W. Aractingy, 1989.
“The first who saw the humpback'd camel
Fled off for life; the next approach'd with care;
The third with tyrant rope did boldly dare
The desert wanderer to trammel.
Such is the power of use to change
The face of objects new and strange;
Which grow, by looking at, so tame,
They do not even seem the same.
And since this theme is up for our attention,
A certain watchman I will mention,
Who, seeing something far
Away upon the ocean,
Could not but speak his notion
That 'twas a ship of war.
Some minutes more had past,--
A bomb-ketch 'twas without a sail,
And then a boat, and then a bale,
And floating sticks of wood at last!

Full many things on earth, I wot,
Will claim this tale,--and well they may;
They're something dreadful far away,
But near at hand--they're not.”

There you have it. La Fontaine summarizes how many organizations respond to CHANGE:
1. Fear & Flee.
2. Approach with care.
3. Master & Put to use.
If we can get past the first response - that is, we acknowledge our fear or discomfort – well, then we can approach – warily - and master the change and put it to use. We can get over our fear of a strange looking beast and begin to use it for transport. Or, of the oyster and swallow it whole. We can learn from our over-reaction to a fancied fear, that some things may not be as bad as they first appear.
We learn that our anxiety about a new routine amounts to little; that the benefits outweigh our temporary inconvenience. Of course, talking – if that’s all we do - may postpone change for years. When finally it happens, we ask ourselves, what took so long?
I have seen professional groups sit and talk so much about doing something that the doing never gets done. Instead they could experiment carefully and make a wise decision in far less time.
One of the great plusses of experiential learning – if we are open to it - is its emphasis on trial and error. If an approach fails, try something else. You won’t get to the something else without making the first mistake.
I found a sure fire way to break a log-jammed discussion about a proposed change. I’d say, “Let’s try it for two weeks, then we’ll look at it again.” Hardly ever did we need to revisit it. If it worked at all, the people doing the work could figure out ways of fine-tuning the application. If not working? Well, we confirmed our apprehensions and pulled the plug.

The honey bee must re-locate every few years, find a new place to live or die. While operational decisions in organizations are rarely ultimate, the bees have much to teach us.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New
Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Université de Montréal

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

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