Innovation Experience Wrapped In Metaphor

After a caterpillar wraps itself inside its cocoon, it waits to metamorph into its next iteration as a butterfly. The caterpillar does not simply shrink and sprout wings. Instead, it disintegrates into a puddle of primordial ooze within the cocoon. If we were to open the cocoon during this process, we would not find a half-caterpillar half-butterfly, but a sticky mass of oozy goop. The goop is a sea of individual cells floating in a miasma.

Then, for whatever reason, a new type of cells begin to appear.

butterfly screen BGThese new cells are called imaginal cells and they are so completely different from the original cells that the ooze cells take them to be a virus or some invader. So the ooze cells act like white blood cells and begin to attack the imaginal cells. However, the imaginal are undaunted. They keep appearing and, in time, locate each other and form clusters.

Eventually, the imaginal cells gain a large enough population so that they switch from being invaders, to becoming the programming cells of the butterfly. Some imaginal cells start changing into wing cells, some change into antenna cells, some start becoming digestive tract cells, and so on. They are no longer imaginal cells but become the essential anatomy of the butterfly. As we know, when left alone in metamorphosis, the caterpillar emerges from the cocoon as a completely new entity—a butterfly.

Anyone who has been involved in creative or innovation will recognize this familiar process.

Moving from the gooey mass of ideation and rough concepts written onto blank sheets of paper, the cocoon sometimes gets ripped open too soon, killing the butterfly. But if we are able to acknowledge and embrace upfront that the process will be messy (and needs to be) then allow equal amounts of time, talent and inspiration do their work, and we soon find butterflies floating on the horizon.