Have you ever heard about how natural pearls are formed?
Me neither. If you’d asked me this a few weeks ago, I probably would have mumbled something about the sea and thousands of years. As it turns out - the specifics are pretty interesting.
Here’s how it all works:
First of all - any mollusc that's housed within a shell has the ability to produce pearls. This includes snails, clams, mussels, as well as oysters.
The formation of these precious gems begins underwater, when the oyster (or snail/mussel/etc) becomes irritated and disrupted, by sand, grit or bacteria entering its shell.
The oyster responds to this irritation by releasing a protective ‘goo’ as a defence mechanism. This goo, called nacre, is both lighter and stronger than concrete.
Over several years, thousands of layers of nacre build-up to create a smooth, beautiful gem. The thicker the nacre, the more bright and shiny the pearl becomes.
I was thinking about this amazing process recently, which had me wondering about the profession of people development, and whether any helpful analogies might be drawn.
As learning and development professionals, do we see ourselves as the oyster? Constantly irritated by the outside world, building protective barriers around us and having to defend our practice to others.
Perhaps we view ourselves as the pearl? Producing gems of knowledge and insight, over years of development, polishing and mastery of our practice.
Or are we, as I suspect, the grit? Recognising that our organisations/teams might see us as the irritant, a foreign body that can sometimes prompt defensiveness and protection.
Do we play that role knowingly, challenging where others cannot challenge, and hoping that those teams/organisations will respond by releasing their own nacre, developing their own pearls of wisdom?
What pearls are you cultivating at the moment? What is their value? And how long do they take to form?
I'd love to hear your thoughts - please feel free to share your persepctive in the comments below.