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The Crisalis Story

From Crisalis founder Steve Freeman: For the past decade, I've taught two popular University of Pennsylvania courses: Creativity & Innovation in Organizations and Work and Crisis Preparation & Organizational Resilience. People usually don't see a connection between these areas, and I'd never been completely satisfied with my explanations of how I've come to these two domains and the synergy between them, until after the last session of my recent creativity class. That class is always good, but this term it was exceptional and the final projects were the best I'd ever received as a teacher. Grading them in the days after the final session, I was inspired to compose this note to the class:

Thank you everyone for the many very nice comments about the course. It was very gratifying for me to work with all of you individually and as a group. You all made it a terrific class. I was not satisfied, however, with how I closed the final session. I had many trains of thought that I could not yet link coherently.

I'd had two counterpoised sets of thoughts and images running through my head over the past few weeks:

As I prepare to teach my crisis course, I'm seeing systemic excess and impending consequences everywhere, though the images have been more specifically about being trapped in noxious containers:

  • Organizations that crush innovative spirit and regenerative capabilities (as per the NASA video);
  • Classroom walls that suffocate fresh thought and creativity;
  • University systems increasingly rigid, obstructive and narrowly focused;
  • A corporation-based system on auto-pilot, hell-bent on growth; the country, planet and future be-damned;
  • Bodies so stuffed with fat and empty calories as to be unable to move;
  • Minds so stuffed with diversion and disinformation as to be unable to think;

Sorry, I had intended this as a brief cheery note!!!

  • An empire deadly dependent on exponentially increasing debt, consumption (especially energy and fossil fuels in particular) and military dominion. (And while the dominant institutions, organizations and individuals are gorging to death; others are starving. Not just people and concrete entities, but also starving are delicate practices– arts, quiet, reflection, conversation, shared experience, the notion of "commons" and public sphere….)
  • Americans so generally encased in layers of fat and falsehood as to be unable to connect with themselves and their thoughts let alone other people…

Still not yet the cheery part… Thank you for your patience …

… separated from and trapped inside of behemoth organizations and institutions, trapped, in turn, inside a behemoth of a country, at every level consuming resources at an already alarming, but nevertheless still- and ever-increasing rate … eating, eating, eating…. all of it empty calories devoid of nutrients, vitamins and natural proteins (though laced with carcinogens) … and those outside the behemoths are being starved – or eaten….

OK, you get the idea.

But despite the real and present dangers, polar opposite thoughts and images dominate both my dreams and consciousness.

Those thoughts and images are what we might think of as our class "journey" ... how we broke through these containers:

  • Literally, as when we moved and utilized open space and outside spaces, ventured into the world of the industrial elite at the Chemical Heritage Society, enjoyed the beauty of the campus on a spring night, and our Cambridge, Mass. creativity exploits; and
  • Figuratively, opening up to play, meditation, mindfulness, body awareness and all sorts of new ideas, perspectives and practices – the best of Harvard, MIT, Penn and everywhere else.

This week, I've been thinking about the extraordinarily high quality of your course projects. Every single course project is potentially, if not already, a life-changer.

While reading final papers, I had dreams of the class and your projects as butterflies. Serendipitously, while also reading about of all things, money [1], I stumbled upon a metaphor that as a society we are in a caterpillar stage of consumption, but from which many are trying to emerge as butterflies.[2] Voila … the metaphor I was looking for that connects these otherwise disparate thoughts and images … chrysalis: we're encased in massive devouring caterpillars …

To try to learn more, I googled "caterpillar destruction"; the entire first page refers to extensive damage and destruction wrought by Caterpillar, Inc. .

But of course, caterpillars can only eat so much … They eat till they outgrow their skins, then they shed their skin, and eat till they outgrow that new skin, etc… four or five times, but then once they've eaten everything they can, they're done…

And what emerges is something completely different… You (us?)

Interestingly, the process is not completely smooth, "natural," or inevitable. The butterfly, as it turns out, is a new organism with a new genome, which is carried by the caterpillar but inherited from ancient butterflies.

An individual butterfly emerges from a caterpillar. These cells are so different that the caterpillar's immune system attacks them as it would an alien substance. But in a successful transformation the imaginal cells keep emerging and eventually form disks that link together, overwhelming the immune system response. The butterfly-in-formation then feeds on the soupy meltdown of the self-digested caterpillar.

In every one of you, I've seen a transformation. Which is really something given that, well, let's just say we're not all that young. These course projects have been astoundingly good, and every one has promise far beyond what you've already done.

Despite the sorry state of the world, our journey together augers great hope and confidence in our future. I'm glad to have shared this journey with you and look forward to travel together to new realms and vistas.

Bon voyage, Steve

[1] I've been reading about money as an incipient crisis. I may teach a course on it; and will at least devote a session in the upcoming Crisis& Resilience class. Fascinating subject really. Money is not what you think it is. . let me know if you'd like to get on my "money mailing list."

[2] Thomas H. Greco, Jr., The End of Money and The Future of Civilization (2009, Chelsea Green Publishing). About the metaphor, Greco explains (p 248): "I was first introduced to this idea by one of my brilliant colleagues in Tucson, Dr. Laurence Victor; then later on by another friend, Norrie Huddle, in her book called Butterfly; and more recently evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris."


So I thought the chrysalis metaphor really captures what I hope to do -- help people and organizations not only survive impending crisis, but  emerge freer, swifter, more graceful, beautiful and distinctive. 

i decided to use a phonetic spelling because:

  • Crisalis looks like Crisis; it is Crisis + two small letters
  • Chrysalis looks like Chrysler; even after I’d written the word a few times and knew exactly what I was writing, at a glance I read Chrysler
  • People cant spell Chrysalis; I think they’ll have a shot at remembering and being able to write Crisalis
  • Crisalis is much more distinctive: 116,000 google search results vs. 11,100,000 results for Chrysalis
To change on this page: 

Is there a simple way to have bullets fully left justified? Can I make that the default?

i'm confused by margins, padding, etc... I'd like a margin w/in th letter part of this page.