I've always been fascinated with the metamorphosis of moths and butterflies.
How in the world does an ugly, leaf munching caterpillar transform into a beautiful, flower sipping butterfly? Or perhaps a handsome tropical swallowtail moth aka Lyssa zampa (in Singapore's context).
For a start, the anatomical and morphological "remodeling" of the insect's body during the different stages must've been quite remarkable. Imagine how a nondescript egg changes into a tiny caterpillar which munches on foliage and grows (and grows) before freezing itself up as a chrysalis and finally emerging as a lovely winged butterfly or moth.
Consider too how radically different the diet, form and shape of the caterpillar is from a butterfly or moth. You need to literally undergo "gut-wrenching" changes to shift from a diet of leaves to one of sweet nectar.
By occupying separate and distinct niches, lepidopterans (the scientific name for butterflies and moths) are able to exploit different environments at different stages of their lives. This ability to adapt has also allowed them to become one of the most successful groups of insects, flourishing on every continent except Antarctica.
Butterflies and moths are also hugely important as pollinators in our ecosystem. They help our trees, shrubs and grasses to propagate, and feed the global population of humans by helping to fertilise important crop plants.
Last but certainly not least - at least for us humans - lepidopterans are aesthetically beautiful insects. Nothing uplifts the soul like a gorgeously coloured butterfly, flitting from flower to flower. Furry brown moths do have their share of fans too, especially if they are as visually spectacular as the Lyssa zampa!
How many Lyssa zampa moths have you seen lately (courtesy of Say Lah Singapore!)
What can we learn from these delicately winged friends of ours?
Lesson One: Choose Distinct and Profitable Niches
Like butterflies and moths, we should be very clear about the specific niches that we occupy at different stages of our life. Are there unique opportunities out there that we can tap on? Which customer groups are currently under-served?
At an early stage of growth, a company may "feed" on the revenue generated from a specific range of products and services serving a certain market. This may vary as the organisation grows, and its customer tastes grow increasingly sophisticated (from leaves to nectar).
Lesson Two: Be Willing To Undergo Radical Change
What would happen if a caterpillar decides to remain as a caterpillar? Other than eating boring bitter leaves (as opposed to sweet honeyed nectar), it would shut itself off from the pleasures of connubial bliss (lepidopteran style), and be unable to reproduce! Over time, this would lead to the end of its kind.
Similarly, we need to bite the bullet of radical and transformative change in order to up our game. This applies equally to individuals and organisations, particularly at critical crossroads of our lives. For individuals, this could be deciding between studying or working, or being single versus married while companies faced with seismic market changes (eg line to mobile phones) have to remodel themselves to ride the new waves.
Lesson Three: Find the Right Time and Place
In nature, there is a time and place for everything. In the butterfly, everything is perfectly synchronised and timed. A caterpillar can only transform into a pupa after it has reached a certain size. A pupal stage insect can only emerge from the cocoon after a certain number of days. Similarly, an adult moth will only live for a few weeks before its job is finally done.
Likewise, we should learn how to follow the right seasons and locations for our activities. Is it a good time for us to launch our business, considering the current market environment? Should we go ahead to pursue our dreams of a PhD when the professors are being retrenched from universities? Finding the right mix of perfect time and place requires us to be sensitive to our environment and what its telling us.
Lesson Four: Be Useful and Add Value To Others
Consider what would happen if insects are completely wiped out from our planet. While many would rejoice over the demise of mosquitoes, cockroaches and houseflies, the removal of butterflies, moths and bees may bring disaster to our many crops. Instead of relying on our tiny fluttering friends, we may have to individually pollinate each and every plant with our fat fingers!
Be helpful and have an attitude of servitude. Find ways to add positive value to the lives of others whom you care about, be they your friends, family members, customers or colleagues. By doing so, your chances of success over the long-term would increase multifold while you derive great satisfaction and fulfillment in helping others.
Lesson Five: Create Works Of Art That Inspire
Finally, seek to add beauty, joy and meaning to the lives of others. With their beautiful wings and delicate flying actions, butterflies have been the subject of uncountable artworks, poems, stories, books, and movies. Some of these date back thousands of years.
In a similar fashion, devote yourself to creating works of art that inspires, motivates and encourages. This need not just be in the worlds of paintings, music, dance or theatre. Many everyday products and services can be works of art - an elegantly designed smartphone, a neatly folded blanket, or a warm and inviting welcome.
(Admittedly, butterflies are usually more successful at inspiring works of art than moths, whom some may find creepy, but at least these nocturnal lepidopterans are not as feared or loathed as the Aedes mosquito!)
Labels: analogies, business, butterflies, ecosystem, lepidoptera, life lessons, lyssa zampa, management, metamophosis, metaphors, moths, Nature