You probably already know the largest mammal on earth is a blue whale. But did you know it’s so large, it can take five minutes to turn 180 degrees to swim in the opposite direction? No surprise, really, when you consider an adult whale is roughly the length of 2 ½ Greyhound buses, weighs more than a fully-loaded 737 airplane, has blood vessels large enough for an adult to swim down, a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, and an 8-foot, 6000 lb. tongue! That is one BIG fish to turn around!
In comparison, a small sardine can turn 180 degrees so fast the human eye can hardly track it. Individual sardines are tiny, weighing only 150 grams. However, sardines never swim alone but rather in a huge “school” which typically contains close to 10 million sardines swimming together in unison. Collectively, this group of fish has a total mass of not one, not two, not three blue whales… but thousands of them. Some groups are the size, width, and depth of city blocks.
But they, as one unit, can turn 180 degrees on a dime. How do they do it?
If you’ve never actually seen 10 million sardines turn in the ocean or behind the glass at a great aquarium, then you’ve probably at least seen it on the Discovery Channel. (Surely, you’ve seen their animated antics in Finding Nemo… one of my all-time favorite Disney scenes!). It’s like a huge optical illusion and appears to happen when 10 million of them make one instant, miraculously simultaneous, decision. Or so it seems…
Turns out, if you take a closer look at the giant mass of fish, at any one time there will be a small group of sardines swimming in another direction, against the flow so to speak… causing collisions, friction, stress, conflict, and discomfort for the rest of the school. Finally, when a large enough percentage of fish are swimming in the opposite direction, the entire school suddenly shifts. And the critical mass it took to do it? Not 40 percent, or 50 percent, or even a majority but 10-15 percent is all it takes to impact the entire group, who then turn and follow.
Those 15 percent are called “Committed Sardines.”
A small but powerful percentage who don’t want to go in the direction of the masses, who have a strong conviction that the opposite direction is actually better, who swim against conventional wisdom, and who ultimately have the power to turn the tide of the whole. We’ve seen it in our social attitudes toward smoking and drunk driving, the Berlin Wall, social media and the Internet… all seemingly overnight occurrences which were really created by an original group of committed sardines. And then when the masses converted, it appeared to be an overnight success.
Your industry is changing, our world is shifting, and many people have become incredibly negative and pessimistic about the future of both. Swim for life in the opposite direction! There will always be systems where things have been done a certain way for so long we’ve forgotten why and how we got there. But I see committed sardines everywhere! My longtime friend, Deborah Berecz, and many of her colleagues are changing the way families approach divorce with a new process called collaborative divorce which many in her “school of fish” have resisted. Sir Ken Robinson and many of his colleagues are challenging the current foundations of our educational system in an effort to totally transform it for children in the digital age but they have met with thousands of “fish” swimming in the opposite direction. In the healthcare and dental industries, committed sardines are experimenting with ways to continue providing extraordinary care even in light of restrictive governmental regulations and programs.
Be a committed sardine and swim against the tide whenever you feel there is a better way. Don’t join the gossip train. Don’t agree with the pessimism. There will always be those in any economy who flourish and prosper. There will always be those who survive and thrive. 2013 promises to be my company’s best year EVER… and I’ll be swimming in that direction whether anyone else is or not… at least until you turn and decide to swim with me as a fellow committed sardine.
It will only take a few of us to turn the tide for many.
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“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world – indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
~ Margaret Mead