Over the course of this week I had the opportunity to visit with a wide variety of executives. They ranged from leaders of multi-billion dollar enterprises to emerging entrepreneurs. What struck me most was the polarization of attitudes across two distinct camps, namely the “sea monkeys” versus the “seahorses”.
Monkey Sea, Monkey Do
Sea Monkeys take me back to copies of Boys’ Life magazine in the early 70s. The ads were all about creating something out of nothing and bringing life forward from a few mail-ordered packets. So we ordered them, prepared the mixture and – tada! – instant fun…for at least a few days. (And no, they never seemed quite as happy as their smiling pictures.)
This week I met a variety of pre-hatched Sea Monkeys. Like their tiny friends, these executives and employees were in a state of cryptobiosis – also known as suspended animation. During cryptobiosis, an organism stops their metabolic processes and can survive until environmental conditions return to a more hospitable state. Upon such a return to “normal”, the organism revives to continue its regular life.
Look around you this morning, perhaps even in the mirror. Don’t be alarmed at what you see, as most of corporate America has entered a state of suspended animation. Now that you know what to look for, you’ll find Sea Monkeys everywhere. And that, my friends, is an enormous problem during a time of crisis.
When I first saw a seahorse, I was surprised by the lack of several important horse-like features – no long mane, no hooves and no saddle. Of course I was six, but that was a good warning against future literal interpretations.
As I got older, I learned of Greek mythology’s hippocamp, often described as a “horse in its forepart with a coiling, scaly, fishlike hindquarter.” This creature was also referred to as a sea-horse and was depicted more as my elementary school mind had imagined.
These sea-horses were often associated with heroes such as the Homeric poems of Poseidon. They pulled chariots and guided riders across rough seas, into battle, and through the tumult to their ultimate destination. The hippocamps were seen as fearless and sometimes ferocious. Their stories, actions and images have been passed down for thousands of years.
Can you spot any seahorses in your organization? I met a few and they are pragmatic, fearless, empathetic and driven. They know someone needs to lead and step into those positions willingly, even if it ultimately leads to their own demise. And right now, we need more of them to step up and be noticed.
So Which Are You?
A simple description of the modern seahorse summarizes my point – “Seahorses swim upright with their tails down and their heads up”. So keep your head up and avoid the tendency to enter suspended animation. The alternative is to live in constant fear, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Wake up all you sea monkeys, and let’s keep the conversation going.