Why the Geese Did Not Fly


A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese learned to always do the same things over and over and to live orderly and predictable lives with no surprises. This primarily meant never take a risk or do anything new. Over time the geese became so lazy they even forgot how to fly. They were safe and secure in their barnyard where everything is familiar and nothing ever changes. In short, they always did what they always did and always got what they always got.

One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. “My fellow geese,” he would say, “can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? Don’t you realize you can fly and change the way you live? You were all born as spontaneous and natural fliers. All you need do is live the way you were meant to live and fly.”

“I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which you are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here you remain in this barnyard, your wings folded and tucked into your sides, as you are content to puddle around in the mud, never lifting your eyes to the heavens which should be your home.”

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. “How poetical,” they thought. “How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.” Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to get off their butts and fly. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with?

The philosopher urged the geese to experience the joys of doing different things and looking at the world in a different way. “Fly,” he would say. “Don’t wait for divine inspiration. Inspiration will never come. Just do it. Get up and fly.” Often he reflected on the joys on controlling your own destiny in the freedom of the skies while you enjoyed the beauty and the wonder of life as they were born to do.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They created computer models, charts and graphs displaying the physics and dynamics of flight. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. They held meetings and talked endlessly about the importance and need to fly. They all agreed that flying would make a much better life possible. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! They were afraid of the uncertainty of living in a different way. For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!

The geese were afraid to change their familiar, comfortable lives for a different way of living because of their fear of uncertainty. We are the same as the geese. It is hard for us to accept change. We are comfortable with the way we do things and have developed habits that depend on them. Like a man who has worn eyeglasses so long he forgets he has them on, we forget that our world looks to us the way it does because we have become used to seeing it that way through a particular set of lenses.


The fear of new ideas is particularly common in conservative corporate cultures that place a premium on the tried and true. The fear is rooted in the unknown and is a killer to creativity and growth. Humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to thrive within our well-established familiar ways of doing things. Accepting new ideas often means examining and changing our own deeply held beliefs. It may also involve leaving our comfortable ways requiring us to learn a whole new way of doing things.

The inability to accept new ideas and new ways of behaving limits our opportunities to learn, grow, and ultimately find success. It all goes back to our intolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. People tend to associate creativity itself with uncertainty and change. This association creates an unconscious bias against creativity which can help explain why people and corporations might reject creative ideas and stifle advancements, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary. What people say and what they do are two different things, especially in the corporate world, when it comes to creativity.

New research titled “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas” by Jennifer Mueller, Shimul Melwani and Jack Goncalo documents how our intolerance of ambiguity makes the old ways seem much better than they actually are given the practical benefits of creative, new solutions. The bias against uncertainty in our minds leave us simultaneously moving in opposite directions; we desire creativity but avoid implementing creative ideas because the uncertainty of creative ideas make us too uncomfortable.


 I live in Rochester, the home of Kodak. At one time Kodak was one of the premier companies in the world. The people who worked there were prosperous, had wonderful salaries, bonuses, comprehensive health and medical benefits, and superior pensions. Everybody was happy. It seemed like there was no end to its prosperity. Kodak advertised itself internationally as being a very creative and innovative company. They created a humor room. They had a creativity room designed to spur ideation. They hired the top creative thinkers in the fields of photography and film. They came up with scores of brilliant ideas such as digital photography, and were among the first to design a digital photography camera.

They had all these cutting edge ideas years before their competition, but they implemented not a single one because of the fear of new ideas. Kodak clung to its aging familiar technology. They wanted to hang on to their historical revenue streams. They thought, “We know we’re making a lot of money with film. We don’t know if we’re going to make money with these new ideas. Let’s keep doing what we’ve always done.” Consequently, not one of these innovative ideas–not one–was accepted or implemented. It was a large organization which could not transform itself by accepting and implementing new ideas. After spiraling downward for the last ten years, Kodak finally gave up and declared bankruptcy.

They should have been at the forefront of the technological revolution in photography. But ideas were shelved simply because upper management could not tolerate the ambiguity. Their CEOs and top managers feared the new ideas. They wanted to be absolutely certain everything would work flawlessly and the money would continue to flow, which, of course, is impossible to predict with new ideas.

In the end, Kodak managers behaved like the flock of geese in the barnyard and did not fly.


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  4. I want to fly. I wish I knew how to change.

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