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What Organizations and Individuals can learn from one little jellyfish

There is a jellyfish species that is almost entirely unique in its physiology. Unlike most other animals, which turn from a baby into a juvenile into an adult, the jellyfish species Turritopsis dohrnii takes a different route.

This jellyfish goes through the usual ‘growing up’ phase, turning from a young larva into an adult. But then it enters an exceptional cycle in the animal world. Once it has reached a completely mature adult state, if the jellyfish is attacked, injured, sick or old, it can revert back into an immature stage of development and go through the entire process of growing up all over again. Theoretically, scientists believe this could go on infinitely. It’s how it earned the nickname ‘Immortal Jellyfish’.

But what does a tiny jellyfish living in the Pacific Ocean have to do with organizations?

I see organizations as living things – they think, act, feel and communicate in unique ways. They grow and evolve depending on the situation and scenario they find themselves in. This might be expanding to accommodate new growth and business interests in times of economic plenty, or cutting back to maintain long-term survival in tougher times. This fluctuating life cycle of growing, shrinking and adapting to environmental change is reflective of how Turritopsis dohrnii lives.

Much like how wild animals have to deal with unprecedented numbers of dangers, organizations must be prepared for anything and maintain a flexible, adaptive approach to ways of working and doing business. Sometimes this means making difficult decisions, like cutting back an organization to the bare bones and starting from scratch. Or it might mean taking an equal risk in growing to take on bigger clients and targets and hoping your growth isn’t misplaced and unsustainable.

How we use the resources that are available to us is what enables survival. Within organizations, one of the biggest resources and investments is the workforce – the people who are making things happen.

Investing the right amount of time and effort into growing and developing the employees of an organization is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Humans are individuals with their own wants, needs, and goals, so at first it can seem impossible to find a way of investing into people that works for everyone. Much like how the jellyfish knows when it’s time to change and start growing again from the ground up, organizations should listen to what employees think and feel about the state of the business and take on board their feedback. This helps divert resources to the right place and improve growth and productivity overall.

Understanding a ‘whole self’ approach to people – seeing them as whole individuals, not just the parts they bring to work – allows organizations to be adaptive and sensitive, intuitive to the needs of their employees and to build a better workforce that can grow successfully. Listening to employees, taking on their feedback and thoughts, can result in unexpected insights and reflections of your organization, which can help you see where improvements can be made and create a better working environment. Feel out the pain points in your organization – it may be that resources are being unnecessarily diverted to fixing a problem that actually needs a different approach altogether.

When we start to see organizations as living things housing individuals, ideas, and goals, we can explore new ways of working and communicating. We can find out if your organization needs to be communicating better with employees, whether it needs to work on changing mindsets or attitudes, or invest in improving working conditions. We don’t need to be as extreme as the Turritopsis dohrnii and strip back to a previous form, but remembering how you got to a point and how you can keep developing, learning and understanding the sum total of your organization will help you to create a better working environment.

To find out more about how I use the immortal jellyfish as inspiration in my work and research as an Organizational Psychologist, as well as how I’ve helped businesses overcome issues, explore the framework here.

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