Who taught snakes how to fish?


Who taught snakes how to fish? The Galapagos Islands. Pivotal in Charles Darwin’s thought processes leading to his publication of “On The Origin of The Species”. Published in full form in 1859, it challenged the established view that we are who and what we are because of Divine Creation. Darwin had an open and enquiring mind and was unlikely to be constrained by tradition and accepted wisdom.

It’s at this point, it’s worth reminding ourselves that at the time he was considered to accompany the journey of The Beagle, he had graduated from Cambridge, in theology. So here in one person we have a theologian, a geologist and someone in pursuit of knowledge through natural history. It seems fair to suggest that Darwin did what many of us are required to do: namely to make sense of conflicting and complementary disciplines and to work with the emergent ambiguities of, then bring them together in a way that made sense.

And this wasn’t a “one leap and we’re there,” journey. Rather it was a process, literally a “voyage of discovery” that required inputs from others: inputs that challenged and developed The Theory of Evolution was (is) itself the product of evolution.

The Galapagos Islands were a sort of “sealed unit” that provided a powerful insight to how species evolve and adapt and it would seem the ones that adapt successfully will be the more successful. Last year in April 2022, a great champion of the Galapagos, Godfrey Merlin died. He was a passionate ambassador for and defender of the uniqueness of the Galapagos and wildlife. He had powerful insights regarding protection and preservation and fought hard to retain the islands’ special qualities, including the necessity to protect this environment from the destructive power of invasive species: rats and dogs were, I understand, particular targets of his considerable persuasive prowess.

I have a favourite story. One day when out walking near the shore he saw a land-snake on the rocks, near some fissures where the sea encroached. Merlin was shocked when he saw the snake (a land snake, remember) enter the sea via one of the cracks and emerge with a fish, begging the question “How did snakes ever learn to fish?” It’s not as if there’s a Yoda type snake somewhere that one day communicated with the Galapagos ones! “Fishing we can do …” 

So what does the above tell us about Maverick Leadership? Well, here we go!

  • Prepare to integrate what you have learned
  • Challenge your own values
  • Find the creative opportunities in ambiguity
  • Communicate with and be challenged by others
  • Accept that your ideas are likely to go through several iterations before you come up with something that brings them together 
  • The status quo is just that. It changes when new information emerges
  • Just because people don’t usually do something doesn’t mean that they can’t (snakes don’t fish
  • Be prepared to be beautifully shocked
  • Defend your core principles and values-they protect your treasures

I want to close with a few words from Godfrey Merlin-ones that I hope will inspire and comfort you as we move in uncertain times and explore new approaches and ideas to our very own unexplored territory. Good luck!

“Do not expect anything. Just go with an open mind and unexpected surprises will greet you wherever you look. But remember to look and don’t hurry by … Live the journey, for the destination may not be the expected one!

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John Dooner
My work is informed by the belief that Human Dignity is the key to great outcomes and after leaving my last Local Government post (2002), I had the opportunity to work with people and teams who were looking for better alignment, a sense of purpose beyond the now and an opportunity to resolve tensions and conflicts that were holding them back. There have been some huge turning points; the opportunity to work with people as an enabler/coach has been fantastic. I’m a qualified mediator working with individuals and teams and work with groups in developing approaches to see us into a challenging and exciting future that’s also just a bit scary! I like walking, cycling, photography and using my local gym. I delight in connecting with people and believe that we all of us, hold the present in stewardship for the future. I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked with great people, I have to quote Einstein and Oasis, “Stood on the Shoulders of Giants!”