The Notion of Morphing (and how it can explain a lot in life)

Never thought I would learn something for life in my art class in high school, but seems that I did (or at least I tell myself that I did). There is this one concept that stuck with me and gained increasing importance throughout my life. It’s the concept of morphing.

Most people are not familiar with this term until I give them very vivid and well-known example. Think of two portrait photos, let’s take two recognizable personalities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Bush.

Put next to each other, these are clearly two different faces. But if you put 50 pictures in between and make marginal changes to each of them, you can slowly morph from Schwarzenegger’s face to Bush’s face with little to no difference between two consecutive pictures. Over the course of these 50 pictures the differences add up and once you look from the end back to the beginning, you can see the differences that you weren’t able to see from one picture to the next.

This phenomenon is called morphing. And surprisingly, it applies to a lot of situations in life.

Here in business school for example, it’s often hard to see if and how much we are changing as we go through this experience. For the most part, we are mentally stuck in one day at a time. As a matter of fact, it’s quite difficult to think or plan beyond the very week that we find ourselves in. Consequently, it’s hard to measure one’s progress as we are often only able to look at the picture in front and behind of us.

Case in point, I had a friend visiting me on campus a few weeks ago and I was able to bring him to one of my lectures in Organizational Behavior. I remember thinking that while it was a good lecture for him to attend, he probably wouldn’t be able to see the “big picture” if he only attended one lecture. One lecture alone — a single picture of those 50 if you want — is often not enough to be able to put things into perspective. That one lecture alone seemed a bit weird (we walked around the classroom with post-it notes and tried to help each other, simulating the effect of networks). But in the context of the entire class, that one lecture would have made sense.

And so it happens that for us to see and understand the change(s) we go through, we need to be able to look beyond the “previous or next picture.” Changes are often only visible by contrasting the beginning and the end (the last and the first picture of that morphing process). Example: I can’t tell how much I changes from week 3 to week 4 to week 5 during my first semester in business school, but I could certainly see a difference if I compared week 12 (the end) with week 1 (the beginning). Even more so, if I increase the time frame and compare the end of the 2-year experience with the beginning.

More specifically in the example of my current business school experience, I see an additional component that goes beyond those 50 pictures. Many of the changes we go through in these two years manifest themselves not only when we are at the end looking back, but also once we are way past it (f.ex. a few years later when a certain situation draws on some of the lessons learned during the two years).

Point being, that there are many situations in life where it’s not very clear what we are actually learning. It’s hard to see it because we are looking at two consecutive pictures that are just slices out of the overall transformation that we are part of. Knowing the concept of morphing can help put this into perspective.

Originally published at on November 29, 2015.

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