The Mimic

by Lou Solomon dated September 1, 2010

We have a relative in the Mimic Octopus, which is found off the coast of Indonesia.  It can contort its body and arms andchange color to mimic more several different species, including sea snakes, stingrays and jellyfish.  This animal is so intelligent that when a dangerous creature is close by, it can impersonate the predator of that creature.  Scientists have observed that when the Mimic was approached by damselfishes, it mimicked the banded sea snake, a predator of damselfishes.

In business we are afraid of being eaten so we change posture, color and motion to survive.  We consider the risk of being honest or tossing out an idea that might make us look bad, and blend in with the dominant opinion to stay safe.

We do lots of talking about innovation–but we don’t reward people for innovation, because there’s no time to make mistakes or be wrong if you’re going to make budget.   Authentic communication  is so rare that when it happens it is simply powerful.   Voicing ideas, taking risks, acknowledging doubt, being vulnerable and telling the truth–when people are given permission to be who they really are they can take an organization to the edge of innovation.

Few creatures worry about being who they really are.   Why isn’t it so easy for us?  Sure, we have bigger brains, a soul and the power of choice.  But when it comes right down to it, we worry about looking bad–or worse, wrong.  Being wrong can make you a pariah in the boardroom.  Instead of being original and speaking from who we really are, in all our glory, we scan for business predators and weigh the options.  We speak from who we think we should be in order to be “right.”

*This entry was inspired by author David Whyte,


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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review,,, and Fast Company.