David Starr Jordan is probably not a name that you know. Unless you make a habit of following after famous ichthyologists (fish scientists to the rest of us) or you went to Stanford (where he was the founding president), he has probably not been a part of your life. However, Mr. Jordan has quite a lesson to offer us.
Hundreds of jars lined the shelves. Each jar held a fish, floating in preservative. A carefully documented label was affixed to the front of each jar, identifying the species within, many of which had been discovered by the curator of the collection himself, David Starr Jordan. For the scientist and his colleagues, it was a sight to behold; a life’s work on display.
Then came the great earthquake of 1906. It rocked San Francisco, and it utterly destroyed the collection. After the shaking stopped, Professor Jordan stood in the midst of shattered glass and scattered specimen. Some were a total loss, their bodies too damaged to keep. These would have to be discarded.
The intact specimens presented their own challenge. They had been labelled on the jar, but now the jars were broken and scattered. Hundreds of fish, many of which were rare new discoveries, would have to be relabeled. The task seemed almost impossible. Furthermore, what could be done to prevent this from happening again.
That’s when Professor Jordan came up with a plan that would change everything… Sew the label to the fish. There it was. Simple. Beautiful. Effective. Never again would a fish be separated from its label by the breaking of the jar. Ichthyologists the world over rejoice.
Crisis doesn’t create the need for change, it just reveals and speeds up the change that already needed to happen.
This seems so simple and the lesson may miss us, but there are at least two things to be learned.
First, we must be willing to change the way we do things. When circumstances change, whether by crisis or by the ebb of time, we must be willing to adapt in order to meet the new parameters. Crisis doesn’t create the need for change, it just reveals and speeds up the change that already needed to happen. So, when you come upon a change that needs to happen, make it happen.
Yep, someone is going to get mad. Someone else won’t understand. Another voice from the stands will let you know that your idea is ill-advised and maybe even stupid. Of course, the biggest crowd will just want you to know that “this just isn’t the way we have always done it.”
That’s ok. Sew it to the fish.
If you found a better way, keep doing it that way. If it isn’t the best way, find out what is. But, whatever you do, don’t you dare put that label back on the jar.
The second lesson we can learn is to not revert to our old way of doing things after the crisis, trouble, or circumstance is over. If you learned a lesson or found a better system in the midst of a difficulty, don’t abandon it. Analyze it. If you found a better way, keep doing it that way. If it isn’t the best way, find out what is. But, whatever you do, don’t you dare put that label back on the jar.
Often, we will adapt in the moment, but return to our “normal” way of doing things when the crisis has been averted. Whether it is comfort, nostalgia, ease, familiarity, or just plain laziness, we find ourselves back in the exact same pattern that fell short the last time.
Progress will only be made when we break the cycle of returning to the comfort old methods.
Find the better way. Stick with the better way. Sew it to the fish.