More on teaching Caterpillars to Fly, with Recipes for GACK
and other gooey messes
How to make your Presentations "Hands In"

The caterpillar-butterfly transformation must be the ultimate paradigm shift!

So, the punchline to the joke, "You'll never get me up in one of those things" can be quite illustrative. Teaching the caterpillar to fly is a silly concept - it is most difficult to teach and doesn't require much learning.

Being a butterfly is entirely within the caterpillar's natural potential, yet I suspect that for the caterpillar to imagine the actuality of this transformation would be pretty rough. They must actively "stop" being caterpillars to undergo metamorphosis. They must prepare themselves a cocoon in order to survive the process and it takes a good deal of time.

Then, they emerge from the cocoon, allow their wings to unfold (and actually harden as they fill with water to make them stiff), and can pretty much fly away. The process takes time and really cannot be hurried. Helping them out of their cocoons interferes with the strengthening process and actually prevents them from flying.

On Learning:

The trick / key learning point in using the joke is that each person "gets" the joke quickly. This limits their thinking of possibilities since they now "Know The Answer." Few people will search for other answers!

Thus, we structure the delivery to have small groups of 5 to 6 people discuss the meaning of the story. What you and they will discover is that there are at least 30 different possibilities including resistance to change, fear of flying, etc. Allow them to discuss the answers until the energy runs down. This may take a while once people get into the spirit of the discovery.

You might also ask them about what they learned from doing the exercise before sharing some of the answers that they developed.

There are so many things that happen when people dare to imagine new possibilities. A very common one, of course, is fear. This might be the first thought -- the butterfly might get suddenly snapped up by a passing bird! But another framework occurs when we imagine something better. What is interesting are the different patterns of thinking and the different beliefs that occur due to the participants past experiences.

Concerns can best handled by separating two questions: "What would you like?" from "What do you think is possible?" Possibility thinking is not generally threatening. Asking people to commit to what they might want to change is more emotional. But the latter will arise from the former.

It's wonderfully liberating to realize you're allowed to want something, and that you can want something without regard for whether you're being practical. This begins the process.

And once they dare to imagine something as possible and as desired, then it's amazing how many can begin the metamorphosis process and eventually start to fly.

Ted Forbes, a short while back, asked me over the telephone if I knew about caterpillars and butterflies. I, of course, said NO because I wanted to know what he had to say. He told me that in the transition from caterpillar to butterfly, all you have is a "yellow, gooey, sticky mess."

So, by being open, I got a whole new metaphor AND reinforced the need to be open to new ideas about how to get things improved. Leaders tend to get isolated and thus need to focus on listening to maximize the quality and quantity of ideas for improvement (as well as share ownership.)

Making a Mess!:

I then started paying attention to Ted's "yellow gooey sticky mess" and happened upon GAK, stuff I bought in a store. I found this in a yellow-brown color (a colloidal suspension) that added a nice kinesthetic and visual to the auditory / visual story.

What is ironic is that when I told Ted about it, he said that his daughter made it in her Day Care Center and he gave me a recipe for it:


2 cups Elmer's Glue

1.5 cups warm water

food coloring


1.5 tablespoon Borax

1 cup hot water mix

then combine the two. This will be a really gooey mess initially but it "hardens" into a much nicer material.

I've actually made gack in train the trainer sessions such as at Bob Pike's Creative Training Techniques Conference.

It does get people involved.

(recipe from The Children's World Learning Center in Charlottesville VA )

(this page can be printed - but not for reproduction or distribution, please)

Different recipes for similar substances

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