Reconsider the Lobster

You may know that David Foster Wallace wrote an essay called ‘Consider the Lobster’. It’s the name of his collection of shorter writings and essays — I highly recommend it. Do lobsters feel pain? How long do they live for? Is the Maine Lobster Festival a living nightmare? These questions all get answered.

I was talking to a friend of mine who runs the A Team inside a top tier ad agency and he was telling me about the lobster, and how it sheds its exoskeleton (‘shell’ for those non/temp marine biologists) to grow.

It reminded my of DFW and his immortal lobster.

It’s a metaphor. A beautiful shining metaphor. To change, to grow, we have to shed that skin that protects us, that holds us safe, and release our soft, vulnerable selves to the harsh currents of the world.

Our new shell will be larger, and will harden over time, until the time for that once new shell to be shucked and left behind again.

And so it goes for the lobster, the immortal beast of the sea. The lobster will literally keep on living, forever, growing, shedding— until the end of time. They don’t get older and weaker, just bigger, and bigger. And more delicious.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S LESS

Sounds great right? You could pop this onto anyone and they’d just go all mooney-eyed and say ‘heeey — that’s some spicy thinking right there — I’m a lobster too! Let’s fix the company by being open to new ideas! Wheee!’.

But no. Context is everything. If you, say, do your lobster morning at a special retreat for your innovacentric ad-making buddies, then yeah, sure, things will work out fine.

But you can’t have chocolate cake for your entree. It doesn’t matter how amazing or groundbreaking the thing you have to say is, it has to be said at the right time — and the right place: to the right people. In fact — the more groundbreaking and innovative, the more of a leap outside the lanes, the less chance you have for success. It’s too much. You’ve gone too far.

Don’t just tack it on (for example) to a UX primer you slapped together for digital newbs. You will get stares. Crickets.

Yes, you may have thought that using a bright red non-sequitur would break things up, create a memorable and sticky ‘record-scratch’ — but the jury’s going to be out for a while.

So. Reconsider the lobster. Learn from my mistake.

Before you launch your next big idea, give it a ramp. A nice, long slow ramp. Even better, get your audience to help build that ramp. They can see what’s coming, and then it’s no surprise when it arrives.

And, then, like the lobster, you’ll be immortal.