Each year we spend a week with the extended family at the beach. There are certain rituals the kids anticipate. One is a night crab hunt. This year the time came and some of the young teenagers were not interested. The activity was old stuff and their screens were far more attractive. Actually, I had a similar feeling… perhaps I could stay home and do something that interested me more? Instead, thankfully, I chose to participate for the sake of the younger kids.
Without any planning or organizing, we arrived on the sand and the adults held the lights as the kids searched. When the first crab was discovered, the kids went into a frenzy. There were loud screams, a mix of aspiration and terror. The group moved across the sand in chaotic patterns while the screams continued.
Then I noticed the evolution of collective competence. The crabs were fast but some people figured out ways to slow them down. They took on the role of stoppers. All the kids feared picking up a crab with their hands. One nine-year-old began diving at them and moving his hands toward the crab while gathering just enough sand in each hand to form a buffer. He made the first successful catch and took on the role of collector. These emerging skills were noticed and imitated. Competencies spread as the group became more and more unified and effective. Soon we were catching big crabs. Through the entire process, the screaming never stopped.
At the end, it was time to free the crabs. Someone called for everyone to put their feet in a circle so the crabs had to run across everyone’s feet to escape. When the crabs were freed, the screaming peaked and no foot remained in place for the crabs to cross.
As we started back to the house, the kids were on a high and it occurred to me that of all the things I had done during the week, this was the peak experience. Participating in the joyful frenzy was life giving. Three days later I was still elevated by the joyful memory.
Yet an hour before the event I was, like the teenagers, telling myself the activity was old. I had minimum desire. Because I knew the little kids hungered for the activity, I went. An hour later I was celebrating the best experience of the week.
Reflecting on the decision is instructive. It warns me that perhaps my conventional preferences cause me to miss out. I am grateful for the frenzy of joy and what I learned from reflecting upon it. I commit to intentionally create more experiences of joy and gladness.
- How does this story apply to life at work?
- What do we learn from the decision of the older teenagers?
- What experiment could lead your unit to joy and gladness?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?