Crab Hotpot

© 2021, Chris Freund, Founder and Partner, Mekong Capital
18 October 2021


(artwork by Vuon Illustration for Mekong Capital)


A bunch of crabs found themselves at the bottom of a huge iron pot that was half-filled with water, with a bit of bamboo shoots, mushrooms, lemongrass, and red chilies floating on the surface of the water. They looked up through the opening at the top of the pot and knew the pot was on a beach. They could see clouds in the sky and birds playing in the air. They could smell the ocean. They didn’t know how they had gotten into this pot. More importantly, it didn’t seem like there was any way for them to climb out of the pot!

Data Crab was paying attention to the water temperature. She noticed that it was starting to get warmer and decided to start measuring the water temperature. Sure enough the data showed that the water was getting warmer. So, Data Crab raced around informing the other crabs. Each responded differently.

Normative Crab swam around the pot telling the other crabs: “This shouldn’t be. This isn’t fair.” He had heard that other crabs were running freely on the beach, and it wasn’t fair that these crabs were trapped in the pot, which was getting warmer. When hearing from Normative Crab how unfair this situation was, and that it shouldn’t be happening to them, the other crabs felt self-pity and helpless.

Stuck-in-the-past Crab constantly replayed his memories and experiences from before the crabs ended up in this pot. When he was a young crab swimming in the ocean, he had evaded an attacking octopus by pretending to be an unbreakable rock. So, he thought if he could just pretend to be a rock, he might somehow survive this situation. Unfortunately, while pretending to be a rock, he got stuck to the side of the pot and he couldn’t move.

Solution Crab thought that other crabs lacked ideas. Luckily, he had lots of ideas that he enthusiastically shared with them. Solution Crab told Action Crab that he should build a ladder using some bamboo shoots. Action crab gave it a try. But the ladder was too flimsy. It collapsed each time a crab tried to climb up and out of the pot. Then Solution Crab told Action Crab he should build a trampoline out of mushrooms. By that time Action Crab had grown annoyed with Solution Crab and gave up listening to Solution Crab’s ideas. Solution crab excitedly chased Action Crab around the pot to give Action Crab his new ideas. Action Crab grew so annoyed by Solution Crab’s ideas that he eventually stuck a mushroom in Solution Crab’s mouth to make him stop talking.

Not-good-enough Crab had an idea that the crabs could build a crab pyramid by standing on each other’s shells. Once the first crab reached the top, it could start pulling other crabs out. But then she thought: “There must be something wrong with my idea. And if my idea fails, the other crabs will find out there is something wrong with me.” So Not-good-enough Crab decided to keep her idea to herself.

Preparer Crab decided to conduct research. She found some books about how other crabs had gotten out of similar situations. The more she read, the more questions she had and the more variables she found to research and study. It never seemed to be the right time to act based on what she knew, as there was always something unresolved that required more preparation.

Loner Crab looked around and thought: “These other crabs are unreliable. I’m all alone here. I’ll have to find my own way out.” He tried to climb out but kept falling back in the pot.

Junior Crab had just recently been thrown into the pot. She said: “Hi everybody, I’m new here.” She wanted to impress her new friends that she could be friendly and valuable. She crawled around trying to be liked.

When Me-First Crab stepped on top of Junior Crab trying to be the first to get out of the pot, Junior Crab so wanted to fit in that she didn’t speak up. But Punisher Crab saw what happened.

Punisher Crab had always felt that she didn’t have much control over her life. She experienced a profound loss of power when things didn’t go the way she wanted. She compensated for this by punishing other crabs to try to create some order and control. When she saw that Me-first Crab had stepped on poor Junior Crab, she snapped into action. She said to Me-First Crab “How dare you to step on Junior Crab! You are bad.” She pulled Me-First Crab down to the bottom of the pot and pooped on his shell to humiliate him and make sure he would never do something like that again.

Problem Crab wandered around the pot looking for problems, and he found plenty of them. There was no shortage of problems in this pot:

  • Me-First Crab had poop on his shell.
  • Loner Crab was sulking.
  • Punisher Crab was beating up other Crabs.
  • Solution Crab was chasing Action Crab.
  • Normative Crab thought the whole situation shouldn’t be this way.
  • The water temperature continued to rise. It was becoming uncomfortable.

Problem Crab believed that if he could inform the other crabs of the problems they faced, they would snap into action and fix them. Problem Crab swam around the pot telling other crabs what their problems were. Many of the crabs didn’t even know that they had a problem until Problem Crab told them that they did. The crabs felt that Problem Crab’s problems were just one more burden to deal with that they really didn’t want. Now they would have to fix these problems too – in addition to figuring out how to get out of the pot. None of the crabs wanted to have anything to do with Problem Crab, except for Solution Crab who felt very attracted to Problem Crab.

Not-good-enough Crab saw the patterns and how dysfunctional the crabs were being. She tried to tell the other crabs that their points of view were getting in the way; that they were trying to fix each other; and that doing more of the same thing wouldn’t lead to better results. But whatever she said didn’t get them out of the mess they were in. So, she gave up, assuming that she wasn’t good enough at communicating.

Relationship Crab looked around and saw that the other crabs weren’t cooperating. He thought: “If I could just build my relationship with the other crabs, they will listen to me and start to cooperate.” He set up appointments with each of the other crabs and was very nice to them. But he didn’t want to disappoint the other crabs or cause any disruptions in their relationships, so he was reluctant to speak up and say anything controversial.

Wrong Crab knew it would certainly help the other crabs if he let them know what each of them was doing wrong. He strutted around the pot telling the other crabs that they weren’t doing things the right way or that there is something wrong with who they are being. He thought that by telling the group and building agreement around what was wrong with each crab, the others might help to show each crab what was wrong with it. But after a very short while, no crabs wanted to talk with Wrong Crab. When they saw Wrong Crab coming, they would look the other way and pretend not to notice him. He sent them meeting invitations, but no crab agreed to meet with him.

Problem Crab informed Wrong Crab that who Wrong Crab was being was the problem. He needed to change who HE was being and stop making everyone wrong. Wrong Crab fervently disagreed and insisted that Problem Crab was wrong and that his way of being telling people their problems was the wrong way to be.

Being Crab sensed that many of the crabs were experiencing being incomplete, hopeless, disempowered, and lonely. So, she spoke up and said: “Let’s have a workshop and we’ll all be happy and empowered.” Some crabs refused to join. But others gave it a try. After the workshop, they all felt so empowered and happy. They gave the workshop a Net Promoter Score of 80%. Being Crab felt super satisfied about having organized such a successful workshop.

Jargon Crab especially loved the workshop. He thought it was fantabulicious. He marched around saying: “crabbedy crab, splishidy splash, sand on your back, empower the rabbit hole”. The other crabs didn’t know what he was talking about.

Data Crab reminded everyone that the temperature in the pot was still rising. By now, the crabs felt that they really were in hot water. Problem Crab said: “We will all be dead soon.” Stuck-in-the-Past Crab agreed and said he knew of many cases in the past like this in which the crabs all died. The situation seemed to be quite hopeless.

Red Crab accused Data Crab of being political. Some of the crabs began to doubt whether Data Crab’s temperature information was correct. They decided to attack Data Crab and her “fake data.” They started calling her Dummy Crab.

Not long after the workshop, it was back to normal. Solution Crab was chasing Action Crab and Problem Crab. Punisher Crab was asserting her control by beating down other Crabs. Red Crab and his mob attacked Data Crab. Loner Crab was still trying to claw up the pot sides on his own. Preparer Crab had found 8 new research articles to read. And Problem Crab was still finding lots of new problems – even more problems than before – and happily shared them with each crab he met.

Unaligned Crab looked around and saw the chaos. She spoke up: “All of us crabs, we are not aligned. That’s the problem. It’s every crab for itself.” The other crabs heard that, and they thought: “Unaligned Crab is right, we are not aligned.” Normative Crab said: “It shouldn’t be this way.” Problem Crab said to Me-First Crab: “This is your fault.”  Wrong Crab said to Unaligned Crab: “You are wrong.” They all started fighting. Punisher Crab decided this was the fault of Unaligned Crab, so she knocked over Unaligned Crab who started crying.

By this point, the water temperature had grown hot enough to begin to steam. The crabs were quite uncomfortable and all became frightfully alarmed.

Messenger Crab rushed in with a message from Results Crab. He said: “Results Crab has a vision for the future. She invites us to focus on our objective of being free on the beach.” But none of the crabs knew who Results Crab was, and such talk sounded crazy. Messenger Crab was uncertain and went on to say: “Results Crab might be right but I’m not sure if this will work. I don’t want to upset Results Crab, so I’m just telling you what she wants.” All the crabs ignored Messenger Crab and went back to trying to fix each other.

Finally, Not-good-enough Crab spoke up. She said: “I was observing all of this and I saw the impact of me being Not-good-enough Crab. I had stopped myself by my own view that I’m not good enough. Now I see it’s not a fact, just a point-of-view. That was in the past and I’m letting go of it now. I’ve shed my old shell. I’ve become Results Crab. My attention is on the future and what we are committed to for our future. I am standing for a future in which we are out of this pot, running around on the beach, eating little snails and fish eggs, playing in the ocean waves.” When declaring that, Results Crab felt unstoppable.

Solution Crab said: “Many crabs are not motivated. I think you should implement a bonus system to motivate them to get out of the pot.” Problem Crab spoke up: “We’re stuck in this pot and we keep disagreeing with each other.” Unaligned Crab chimed in and said: “We weren’t consulted. We aren’t aligned with this plan. There is no alignment here.” Then all of the crabs agreed that they were not aligned.

At first, Results Crab thought: “You don’t get it. You are focused on fixing each other, and your way of looking at it won’t lead to our freedom.” But she considered it carefully realized that kind of assertion would shape the reality of the crabs in a way in which they would NOT be focusing on their objective for the future, rather than in a way in which they WOULD focus on it.

Results Crab was tempted to say: “Your own points of view are in the way.” But the past flashed before her eyes as she realized that too was just one more problem to fix, and that trying to fix them wouldn’t get them out of the pot. The other crabs would feel defensive like they are under attack.

So Results Crab slowed down, brought back the big picture in her mind, and she said: “Our future begins with our shared commitment to be free from this pot, enjoying life as beach crabs do. This is more important than being right about our points of view about each other. Now, you all have a choice. You can continue being who you’ve been being and see if that gets you out of this pot. Or you can put your attention on a future in which all of us are free and living out our lives with our cherished crab families on the warm sandy beach.”

Stuck-in-the-past Crab was still stuck to one side of the pot but yelled out to Results Crab: “You are a hypocrite. In the past you weren’t standing for the future, and you told us to fix things. You made the same mistakes as the rest of us. Why should we align with you now?”. Results Crab thought carefully and said: “You are right that I too was stuck – trying to fix what wasn’t working, trying to tell other crabs what to do, or how to be. But I saw that trying to fix the past, trying to change each other, putting our attention on what’s not working, or even relating to each other as our past mistakes – none of this will lead to our freedom. We all need to practice putting our attention on our shared objective of getting out of this pot. It will take effort and practice, but we can do it.

When Action Crab heard that he asked the others: “What actions can we take to achieve our objective?” Preparer Crab spoke up and said she had heard Not-Good-Enough Crab mutter about the idea of crabs building a pyramid on each other’s shells. Action Crab said, “Great idea! Let’s get into action now. I can coordinate.” But not everyone was aligned, especially Unaligned Crab, who spoke up on behalf of the other crabs and said: “The other crabs aren’t aligned.” Suddenly many of the crabs started to think that maybe they weren’t aligned too.

Then Being Crab had an epiphany: “Let’s be committed to getting out of this pot, seeing ourselves as partners who can work together to achieve this. We have a choice over how we view the situation we are in. With the coordination of Action Crab, we can find a way to build the crab pyramid and get out of this steaming pot.

The crabs let go of their points of view about themselves and about each other: views that they were not aligned with each other, that something was wrong with them, that there was a problem to fix, that they were not motivated, that they must discover whose fault it was, etc. They explored how they could work together to get out of the pot and created an action plan with KPIs. The Business Intelligence (BI) team created useful reports so they could track their progress and identify ways to optimize their pyramid-building techniques.

They started the crab pyramid, finding just the right way to stand on each other’s shells without falling. Sometimes a crab would slip and they would have to start over and rebuild it. But instead of relating to these setbacks as problems, Problem Crab said: “This is an opportunity for us to improve our performance, become more effective. Let’s keep our focus on getting free from this pot. Every time we make a mistake, let’s investigate the facts and identify new ways of looking at what we are dealing with, and new actions we can try. I’m responsible that we will discover the pathway to our freedom and achieve it.” Problem Crab had transformed into Breakthrough Crab.

In fact, most of the crabs had transformed:

  • Stuck-in-the-past Crab transformed into Future Crab;
  • Punisher Crab transformed into Love Crab
  • Normative Crab transformed into Acceptance Crab
  • Solution Crab transformed into Discover-for-yourself Crab
  • Wrong Crab transformed into Acknowledgement Crab
  • And so on…

The crabs stayed committed to their future outside the pot and didn’t give up. With practice and persistence, they got better at building their pyramid. Whenever they fell, they re-committed to their future outside the pot, learned from their mistake, got back up, and tried again. After many attempts – and just as the steam swirled and the water began to bubble, as they were about to be boiled alive, they finally made it, pushing Action Crab up to the top of the pot. When he climbed over the edge, Action Crab reached down and quickly helped pull out each of the other crabs until all of the crabs were out.

They were free! The future they had envisioned was realized! They could barely believe it. Committing themselves to a clear outcome in the future, and then organizing around that future vision until it was achieved, had actually… worked.

The crabs romped across the warm sand, smelled the sweet ocean air, and delighted in the roar of wonderful ocean waves. They looked up to enjoy the clouds and the sea birds and raced across the beach with joy and excitement to reunite with their crab families.

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Published On: October 18, 202115.8 min read

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