Lessons from the Penguins

What can penguins teach us about confronting stubborn attitudes?

One evening during my first year as a Director, I vented to my husband about my team, “If they would just do what I suggest, we wouldn’t waste so much time debating the issue.” Half-joking and half-serious, I admitted that I apparently slept through the class on “How to Win Friends and Influence Others.”

I wish I had run across this penguin story back then.* It would have saved me a few frustrating conversations and time spent trying to convince someone about a better approach …

In 2003, the San Francisco Zoo housed 46 long-time resident penguins. Over the years, they grew lazy and comfortable with their daily routine … eat, rest and occasionally take a dip in their pool to cool off and keep their feathers sleek. They coasted through the day, doing only what they needed to survive.

One day, the scene changed dramatically around the penguin pool. Six new penguins moved in from Ohio, and they loved to swim. They jumped immediately into the pool and swam laps all day, rivaling the likes of Michael Phelps or Mark Spitz. They ignored and never nagged the 46 lazy penguins to join them. They just swam until evening and dragged themselves out of the pool for dinner, exhausted but content.

The original San Francisco penguins watched from the sidelines day after day. Until one day, one of the 46 observer penguins joined the 6 swimmers. Then, another waddled into the water followed by 3 more. Before long, all 46 were in the pool with the six, flapping water on each other and lapping the pool. Without squawking a word, the six Ohio penguins persuaded the 46 land lovers to join them.

And the wisdom I gleaned from the 6 penguins as I honed my skills of influence?

*Lead by Example. When challenging tradition, opposing opinions or comfortable routines, make it your practice first. Show rather than tell the new idea.

*Change the Environment Make-up. Introducing new team members with fresh perspectives and enthusiasm can shock the more tenured out of  ruts. Or creating partnerships with someone outside of the group is enough to inspire new behaviors.

*Practice Patience. Give people the time they need — especially those internal processors like myself — to consider the new approach and then to experience it for themselves.

*And Don’t Give Up. The older the tradition or routine, the more entrenched it is. And the more entrenched, the longer it takes to influence change in behavior.

Look what one Savior and 12 ordinary men accomplished using these principles. The minority can influence the majority. It just takes a little time and friendly persuasion.

Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. (1 Peter 3:1, NLT)

*I found the penguin story on Michael Hyatt’s blog March 27, 2012, as a guest post by Sean Glaze, a team speaker and motivator.

©2012 Gloria Ashby. Feel free to forward this devotion in its entirety, including this copyright line. Leave comments, ask questions, read past devotions, or subscribe to receive these devotions daily in your e-mail.

About Gloria Ashby

I'm a writer, speaker and teacher. I live with my husband in the DFW area, and close to our daughter and her family.
This entry was posted in Patience, Serving Others and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Lessons from the Penguins

  1. vondaskelton says:

    What great advice, Gloria! Thanks for sharing it. I would love to have seen that story unfold!

  2. WHat a great illustration. Missed you this weekend at NTCW

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