Several scenes have been milling through my mind recently. I realise that they all hang together, and all bring illumination.
The first scene is the male lobster, scuttling along on the ocean floor.
Our crustacean is described in the opening chapter of the book “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson. If the creature loses enough fights, and with them his social status, his brain stops producing serotonin – just like the brains of us humans might do under ongoing adversity. Parts of his brain actually shrink. He becomes deeply depressed and gives up.
The winner’s brain is flooded by serotonin. He straightens up and flexes. Other lobsters believe that he has expanded in size and are so impressed that his status keeps improving. The stronger lobster keeps his winning streak.
We share many of the neurological structures of the lobster – the loss of serotonin when we lose, the ways our brains flood with it, and our posture-flexing, when we win, says Peterson. Thing is, us humans have a major advantage over the lobster. We have the power to consciously adopt different thought patterns and behaviours, ones that will change our brain chemistry and set us on a new and more successful path in life.
No need for us to skulk on the ocean floor, suffering the indignities of zero social status and a shrinking brain.
What does all this mean for business? Bear with me; there’s more to this lobster story than meets the eye.
In the second scene, an engineering company comes to Dolphin Bay to fix mistakes made by previous contractors on our factory construction project. These workers do such a bad job that we insist they leave. I phone the owner. He organises another team. They arrive, apologise, and start working again. Still, we must micromanage them to get a good job done.
Dolphin Bay has been struggling enormously with what we perceive as shoddy service from some contractors. It feels utterly disheartening. But the story about the engineering company has a twist – upwards. Unexpectedly, after they fix what was wrong, the owner visits us as a courtesy call. The entire way he presents himself was honest and sincere. No more needs to be said. Clearly, the relationship is repaired.
We understand each other.
It is a moment of clarity and hope for me: relationships that become troubled can rise again. The key is to be brave, acknowledge the reality and commit to resolving the issue.
Another moment of clarity is that I took on certain contractors because I knew they needed the business, without questioning their technical capabilities. From the start, I had set them up for failure. This was my responsibility, regardless of the bad work done.
Now for the third scene. A lawyer from a respected law firm clocks into our Zoom meeting. He slouches in his chair, seeming sloppy and disinterested. He clearly underestimates the scope of the work. Unimpressed, I phone his boss and request a replacement. The boss listens attentively and understands, telling me the lawyer in question was sent purely because he himself was busy and he thought we needed a consultation urgently. However, if we can wait a week, he will take the case himself, he says.
It was a very quick call. He fronts up, and I understand the mistake was made in good faith. The problem is solved, my respect won back. I decide to wait the week for him.
My understanding deepens that honest discussions are the way to turn things around.
I’ve felt sorely in need for wisdom, to be honest. We’ve all seen so many bad attitudes and so much shoddy work recently that, in frustration, I’ve been wondering – on a deep personal and societal level – why this is the case and what to do about it.
Here, our defeated lobster springs back to mind. I sense a lack of self-worth and purpose in those doing poor work.
We are all dealt vastly uneven hands of cards to play in this world, and the margin of error is so much smaller for people with great difficulties in life.
At the same time, our society, media and leadership emphasise the message that people are victims of circumstance, entrenching the helpless-lobster mentality. I believe we are all confronted, constantly, about who we choose to be and have the power to turn things around – as our contractor did. It is a waste of human potential that those feeling like victims do not yet know their power to choose.
Knowing all of this, how can we shrug our shoulders? How can we not take responsibility for it or, at least, take some action?
The best response, I believe, is honesty with ourselves and our service providers about what we need and the way to achieve it. We need to be sure we are reasonable in our choice of contractors and what we pay them.
Accepting poor standards does nobody any favours. Most people tend to avoid confronting poor workmanship but, in commitment to having a project done well and given the chance that honesty might help another person to improve, why not take the chance?
When something goes wrong or we’ve done something badly, we must own it and sort it out.
If we are dedicated to being the best human beings that we can be, to improve constantly and to learn something new every day, we will transcend the fate of our sorry lobster.
And if, where possible, we instil these values in our children – if we teach them that effort breeds results, and they can in time surpass even our achievements – how will they turn out?
They will be phenomenal.
Photo credit: MentalFloss