Here is something I have meant to post about for a while. It is a metaphor in the book ‘Dangerous Undertaking‘ by James Harlow Brown. Shawn has previously blogged about the extensive use of metaphor in the book. The metaphor is in a story about a NASA engineer who discovered something that took him off his ‘autopilot’ and helped him realised the impact his behaviour and actions have. I have tried to paraphrase the story to capture its essence:
The engineer was sitting by a pond, contemplating. He saw a frog jump into the pond and noticed how the ripples spread right across the pond. He watched intently and realised that there were many other sources of movement on the surface of the pond. Insects would occasionally touch the water causing tiny ripples. A swallow swooped down and lightly touched the surface as it caught a bug. A light breeze came up and created more ripples. All these ripples interacted and caused complex patterns on the surface of the water. The engineer began to get an insight; each event was writing its unique pattern on the water and the ripples lasted long after the event happened. He realised that the whole world was the same way. We make ripples and create the future every moment.
The engineer’s insight deepened. He realised he was watching the pond from a distance, as if he were outside watching others make ripples and he couldn’t see himself in the picture. Suddenly it hit him that in the real world, there is no bank to sit on. He was right in the pond where the ripples were affecting him, and where he was causing ripples too. This was the insight that had a profound effect on the engineer, getting him to turn off his autopilot. Seeing himself as a part of the pond, not as some external observer.
For me, the pond metaphor has relevance to our work in leadership development. Some managers see themselves as sitting on the bank, carefully choosing where they want to drop a pebble and create patterns. They do so without realising that their every action creates patterns that have a big influence on the pond. Influences that may counteract the effects of their carefully dropped pebbles. ‘Sitting on the bank’ is a luxury that doesn’t exist. We are all creating patterns, and the future, constantly because we are in the pond. Seeing ourselves as ‘in the pond’ helps change the way we think about the effects of our behaviour.
What ripples are you causing? Will your pebble drop with scarely a ripple in the pond, or will it have lasting effect?
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: