What is a processionary caterpillar manager?

 “What matters in learning is not to be taught, but to wake up.”

 Jean-Henri Fabre – father of modern entomology

In the 19th Century, Jean-Henri Fabre the famous French naturalist, conducted an experiment with Pine Processionary caterpillars. He arranged the caterpillars in a continuous loop around the rim of a flower pot, where each caterpillar’s head touched the end of the caterpillar in front of it so that the procession formed a full circle. He then placed the favourite food of the caterpillars in the middle of the circle of caterpillars.

What happened?

The caterpillars went around and around in circles formed by the procession, blindly following the caterpillar in front. Despite the food being less than 3 centimetres away, they all died of hunger and exhaustion. All they needed to survive was to change direction to get the food.

The caterpillars were following instinct – habit – custom – tradition – past experience – precedent – opinions – ‘standard practice’ or whatever you may choose to call it..

What are the lessons for managers?

  1. Activity is not accomplishment. How often are you busy, but not accomplishing anything?
  2. Are you “caught in a rut” by following traditional routines, habit patterns, or schedules and not achieving the outcomes the organisation requires to be successful in the future?
  3. As managers, balancing tradition and implementing new strategies is difficult. Success is based on the willingness to plan, fail, learn, and move forward, so the existing strategies support a successful and productive future?

So, are you or your staff acting as processionary caterpillars and mistaking activity for outcomes?

If so, what new ideas and activities are required to ensure continued success?

What habits and activities do you need to stop doing?

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