Friday Fable. Krylov’s “The Swan, the Pike, and the Crab”*

Posted by jlubans on April 14, 2016

Caption: Look familiar? Some teams are like that.

“WHENE’ER companions don’t agree,
They work without accord;
And naught but trouble doth result,
Although they all work hard.
One day a swan, a pike, a crab,
Resolved a load to haul;
All three were harnessed to the cart,
And pulled together all.
But though they pulled with all their might,
The cart-load on the bank stuck tight.
The swan pulled upward to the skies;
The crab did backward crawl;
The pike made for the water straight —
It proved no use at all!

Now, which of them was most to blame
’Tis not for me to say;
But this I know: the load is there
Unto this very day.”

No doubt, there’s an easy solution: a kick-ass leader to bring this transfixed trio in line! Yes, a muleteer's whip would get the job done, but why do not the swan, pike and crab cooperate? Do they (and us) always need to be told what to do?
Had they cooperated, the metaphoric cart would have moved on. Probably Krylov’s point is that some people are never going to cooperate, “without accord”; hence “the load is there unto this very day.”
While we all offer different talents in a group effort, it makes good sense to establish Role and Purpose, two quintessential rules for group development. When work groups were at odds, I saw our organization’s cart bog down. Neither collaboration compromise nor consensus was possible, leaving outcomes purely to chance. Who to cut the Gordian knot?
I just heard about a not too distant international city with 5 boroughs, each with its own public library system. None cooperate; they all stand alone. The unnamed country has a literacy rate approaching 99.9% so these five libraries would see increased use (a desirable) were they to cooperate, pool resources, and create a single library card for readers.
Predictably, these library systems will be forced to consolidate and the readers and the libraries will be the worse for it. It’s like the s-shaped curve. When you are on the rise (daffodils a-bloom and skies are blue), that’s when you should be looking for the next upward curve, the next big improvement. When you are on the declining slope, it’s too late; you’ll have settle for whatever someone on the outside hands you and that’s only if they want to.

* Source: Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, Guy Daniels, and David Pascal. 1”5 Fables of Krylov”. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Ivan Andreyevich Krylov, (1768/69-1844) Russian writer of innocent-sounding fables that satirized contemporary social types in the guise of beasts. His command of colloquial idiom brought a note of realism to Russian classical literature. Many of his aphorisms have become part of everyday Russian speech.”

Copyright © John Lubans 2016

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Posted by Andreas Lang on April 15, 2016  •  14:20:34

Swan, pike and crab might have different objectives. Taking the cart to its destination may not be their common goal. And - maybe - they reach their individual goals. even when that is not in the best interest for all.

Posted by jlubans on April 15, 2016  •  22:07:42

Hello, Andreas!
I've been in situations where the pike, crab and swan met their individual goals (no change in status quo) but, like you say, not in the best interests of all! Very frustrating for an organization under the gun, so to speak, to change. J

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