Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up…

Two caterpillars were sitting on a wagon and a beautiful butterfly floats by. The one caterpillar then says to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”

Please take a minute and think through some implications of those thoughts and the image above and then return here to read on.

Let’s start with a simple truism:

   “Caterpillars can fly if they just lighten up…”

Now we all know that caterpillars can’t fly and that a transformation is necessary, but the kinds of caterpillars found in our workplaces actually make that choice not to transform, to never free themselves of old baggage and the weight of their decisions. Doubts, bad experiences, past failures and other things all serve to limit the willingness to change, even though change is inevitable.

Playing with new ideas is one way to change perceptions and generate some active involvement in the change process, because another truism is that, “Nobody ever washes a rental car.” Active involvement is essential to developing a sense of ownership and that gives rise to a sense of increased commitment to trying to do things differently.

So, what are some ideas for lightening up, understanding that change is difficult and that implementing improvements is challenging.

People generally want to make workplace improvements but they do not like the discomfort about personal change. It is a Paradox we need to address to implement change. Leadership can help decrease resistance to change by increasing clarity, understanding, perspective and involvement. Teamwork and collaboration and working toward shared goals and objectives can help to decrease resistance.

Peer support for change is also a powerful motivator as is clarifying the issues to better understand organizational dynamics. Feeling that you are being supported in your efforts to implement changes is important.

The play is the thing. Serious play focused on impacting issues and opportunities in the workplace can help drive improvement. So, let me share simple exercises you might try to help people better understand the issues around personal resistance to change.

Let’s start by returning to the wagon and discover some thoughts and ideas about change and continuous continuous improvement (from the Department of Redundancy Department!):

Step back mentally from the above illustration and consider what it has to do with performance and change.

How might the above image represent some organizational realities – issues of isolation, communications, alignment, expectations, visions, motivation, involvement, commitment, etc. How does disengaging from active involvement in the above situation help one to see things differently and find different viewpoints and realities?

And consider how you can lead a small group discussion about how the above illustration and how it might relate to the reality of your workplace. How might you use this to generate thoughts on possibilities for improvement?

Getting people to consider the many Square Wheels® they perceive is a way to help generate some cognitive dissonance and motivation to change. Talking about Round Wheel possibilities is a way to get people connecting around things that might be done differently. Changing the language of performance is a solid way of generating different perspectives about issues and opportunities.

And how might playing with such a process and using metaphors impact shared views and generate ownership of ideas? Again, the play of the thing is what generates a perceived need to change and the motivation to implement things. Discussion is the first step in generating consensus and possibly leading to teamwork focused on improvement.

Play can be a projective tool for looking at issues and opportunities in a less threatening way than normal discussions, something that allows people to build a base on which to engage. Different people see different aspects of a workplace reality, so play is a way to generate some consensus.

So, in the model above, play can be about “stepping back from the wagon” mentally and facilitation of a small groups working on ideas to define what things might be done to make improvements.

There are many ways of playing with ideas. You could just start brainstorming about ideas and impacts of those ideas and generating consensus for change, and thus building some level of commitment. You can also purchase very inexpensive toolkits around Square Wheels® from our website.

Here is another set of three experiential exercises designed to help people play with the issues around resistance to change. It is a behavioral change framework you can do requiring no tools or training. It is called, “The Finger, Arm and Leg Exercises” and something I have used in hundreds of workshops to help decrease resistance and generate some playfulness around change.

Another fun exercise works around an idea of visioning. You present people with an alternative reality by asking them to discuss the future, improved and enhanced workplace:

“It’s 2025 and our team has accomplished (factor). What did we do to reach those results / successes?”

Framing it as already accomplished, you can lead the discussion around what needed to be accomplished to reach that success. What roadblocks were managed? What resources were available? What collaboration happened? All this simply identifies what needs to be done to generate change and success.

Playing with LEGO is another approach. There are a wide variety of different resources available for generating ideas. LEGO Serious Play is open-source and you can find a wide range of different tools available. “Serious Playing with LEGO – Facilitating Engagement with Play” is a Facebook page Scott operates where people can share issues and opportunities with others and get coaching suggestions about different ideas. Details can found on the Contributors’ Page:

Hands on involvement is subtle way to impact ownership and reduce resistance to change. The key is to generate active involvement and altered views around issues and opportunities. If you are looking to decrease resistance and increase the likelihood of implementing improvements, we suggest you remember this simple thought as an operational reality:

“Nobody ever washes a rental car…”

Have Fun out there!

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

© Performance Management Company, 2020

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CEO at Performance Management Company LLC
Solomon Salvis is CEO of Performance Management Company, LLC and is a certified Leadership coach from Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching, conducting world class business simulations on Strategy, Collaboration, Organizational alignment, entrepreneurial thinking & Business Acumen.

He holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, Diploma in Sales and Leadership from McGrath Institute of Leadership Training and Senior Management Program certification from Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, along with various other diploma's and certifications in the field of Learning and development.
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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant with workshops and preentations in 47 countries.Scott is a Certified Professional Facilitator (IAF) and Certified Professional Trainer (IAPPD) and holds a doctorate in behavioral neuropsychology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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  1. Great points, Scott. This sounds very much the same as the way I like to use playful activities in learning, as a way of seeing the issues in a new way, and facilitating deep reflection. I think that distance is important as it helps people to finally see things more clearly – from a different perspective, instead of just from ‘within’. Abstraction and analogy are really powerful tools – I can really see how the square wheels would help folk to reflect on dysfunction, for example. How does the ‘Finger, Arms and Legs’ exercise work? I’d be fascinated to know.

  2. I wanted to also share some resources for people to explain how to use the Square Wheels and the metaphor of Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly. You can see a lot more ideas around this metaphor of caterpillars and butterflies in a blog post called “Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly.” Find it at

    “The Finger, Arm and Leg Exercises” and something I have used in hundreds of workshops to help decrease resistance and generate some playfulness around change.
    See a lot more details and delivery ideas around this exercise here:

    One can find the Serious Playing with LEGO Facebook site here: And there are many similar pages of resources online.

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