The World is Cocooning: Nothing in a Caterpillar Tells you it’s Going to be a Butterfly


“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”― Buckminster R. Fuller

You will be familiar with the symbol of the butterfly to represent metamorphosis, transformation and change. While it is a wonderful symbol of evolution, the scientific detail of this metamorphosis is truly astounding and so pertinent in our world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.)

After hatching, the caterpillar devours its nutritious eggshell and becomes a veritable eating machine, chomping through as much as one hundred times its bodyweight in a single day. Despite being perfectly happy with its existence, after a while, something deep within the caterpillar signals that it is time for change.

This signal starts as with a deep impulse, an inkling at a cellular level. The cells that initiate the change are known as imaginal discs. Imaginal discs begin life as single-cell organisms within the caterpillar and remain dormant until they suddenly awaken when the time is right. These cells are so different to the cells of the caterpillar that the caterpillar’s immune system rejects them attacking them as invaders.

Despite being rejected, imaginal cells persist and multiply within the caterpillar. These new cells resonate at a similar frequency, communicating with each other and self organising to eventually join forces to overwhelm the caterpillar’s immune system.

Once the caterpillar becomes too bloated from eating, it finds a twig and hardens its skin into a chrysalis. Next, the caterpillar goes through a beautiful transformation. The caterpillars former being dissolves into a nutritious soup to fuel the new being, which will soon become the butterfly. In essence, just as the caterpillar used its eggshell to power its new being, the butterfly is now using the caterpillar as energy to power its new being. For progress to happen, the new self uses the former self as nourishment.

It is important to recognise that for the new being to emerge, it did not destroy the old, but rather built upon what was already there. The old plays a noble role to enable the new.

This is what we often overlook in personal and organisational transformation processes.

The Personal and Organisational Butterfly

Corporate changemakers and innovators quite often dismiss their legacy organisations as “stuck in their ways” or label them as blockers. We must recognise that the legacy organisation is what fuels the new organisation. We may eventually need any mix of logistics, institutional knowledge, personnel, support and even capital of the old in order to fuel new growth. Alienating ourselves by trying to make change alone, simply will not work.

Just as Imaginal cells are quite literally different DNA from that of the caterpillar, the changemakers within large organisations are different people. If you are one, you know what I mean, you think differently, you see opportunity where others do not and you tend to have a positive world view. Interactions with those in positions of power from the legacy organisation are draining, they always feel like a battle. Well, that is because it is a battle, they are doing their job as the corporate antibodies. You represent a threat, your DNA is perceived as an attack on the old entity. When (it always happens) you get this point, recognise it as a mark of progress, because if you do not reach it you are not instigating enough change, the change is not radical enough.

Equally, use the lessons from the imaginal cells to resonate a frequency to attract those who are on the same level as you. This is a slow process, where you eventually begin a movement, where you and the other corporate imaginal cells join forces to initiate true transformation.

On a personal level, when we encounter change, each of us go through a similar experience as the caterpillar. Think for a moment. You know when a change is required. You feel an inkling deep within you. Only very few of us listen for that impulse, let alone respond to it. Often we drown it out with busyness, with alcohol or other distractions. When we encounter a need to change, we often battle for the status quo, just like the caterpillar’s immune system defends against the imaginal cells. This is a perfectly natural part of the change process, welcoming this step is quite liberating.

I have mentioned change at an organisational and personal level, but I can’t help but seeing this current period of Covid-19 lockdown as an opportunity to transform at a global level.

The World is Cocooning

“Why are institutions, everywhere, whether political, commercial, or social, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?

Why are individuals, everywhere, increasingly in conflict with and alienated from the institutions of which they are part?

Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?

It is a story of the future; of something trying to happen; of a four-hundred year old age rattling in its deathbed as another struggles to be born.” — Dee Hock (founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA) our guest on the first Innovation show documentary, links below

For the caterpillar, the moment of crisis is when the imaginal cells awaken to instigate change. For the butterfly, that same moment is a new beginning. For the species to survive, the caterpillar must play the exact role that she does play. It is the butterfly that reproduces and ensures the future of the species. This is a lesson for personal change, just as it is a lesson for organisational change, but it is also a lesson for human evolution.

We have a unique opportunity to recalibrate, reevaluate and regenerate our world. We already witnessing moments of human beauty where people are helping each other, acts of extreme generosity and kindness. However, my thought for this Thursday Thought is to consider this period of “lockdown” not as one of restriction, but one of opportunity. We have a chance to enter the cocoon, where everything is on hold on the outside. It is a time to allow the imaginal cells within us all to take hold, to join forces and to generate new versions of ourselves. When enough of us change across the world, the global imaginal cells may just overwhelm the old world and create a new one.


This week, we released 2 episodes. One is with the brilliant Stephen Shapiro. EP 203: Invisible Solutions: 25 Lenses that Reframe and Help Solve Difficult Business Problems

Unprecedented access to infinite solutions has led us to realise that having all of the answers is not the answer.

From innovation teams to creativity experts to crowdsourcing, we’ve turned from one source to another, spending endless cycles pursuing piecemeal solutions to each challenge we face.

What if your organization had an effective and systematic approach to deal with any problem?

To find better solutions, you need to first ask better questions. The questions you ask determine which solutions you’ll see and which will remain hidden.

More about Stephen here:

The second episode is the first of a multipart documentary on Dee Hock, founder of Visa.

More about Dee here:

Both are available at the links below:

Have a listen:



Spotify iTunes



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