What Hermit Crabs Know About Growth (That You Should, Too)

I just returned from a few days visiting the Florida town where I grew up. I always love spending time in the sunshine and surf, and this trip was just about perfect.

Sitting on the beach watching wildlife reminded me of the hermit crabs we kept when I was a kid. We got them on a sailing trip to the Bahamas and they lived in “mouse houses” – plastic bins shaped like tall shoeboxes – recycled from a research lab.

These open-topped boxes made it easy to observe the hermit crabs in their daily life, crawling around on rocks and generally hanging out. Over time, they eventually outgrew their shells, which were not their own exoskeletons, but seashells they found on the beach.

Because hermit crabs don’t grow their own shells, when it came time for a new shell, we provided a bigger version plucked from the nearly beach. Upgrading was hardly a high-risk maneuver because there were no predators in the mouse house.

In the wild however, growing is a different story. Crawling from one shell to another is the most vulnerable time in a hermit crab’s life. Naked and exposed, they could be eaten by a seagull of some other predator while moving from one shell to another.

And that’s where the parallel is with your business.

Growth Requires Risk

Sometimes growth is seamless, but more often, it’s a scary proposition. The temporary risk of exposure is the price paid to access the benefits of a larger market, expanded product line, or a broader operation.

You can’t stay put and grow at the same time. Your shell, the environment you’re created, won’t let you. The natural forces of markets and customers make sure that companies that don’t move will stagnate and die, not thrive.

Knowing ideal time to make a change is difficult, and it’s your job as a leader to make the call. Wait too long and your options are significantly reduced. There are fewer suitable shells to chose from, and more predators waiting in anticipation of a good meal.

Are you risk-averse? Consider the options:

  1. Stay put and endure the discomfort of too-tight surroundings as long as possible, Eventually, this will end up being fatal.
  2. Step out and move slowly, tentatively to your new home. This extends the risk and exposure, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic results.
  3. Move decisively. Prepare in advance, then quickly execute an agile move. This is fear inducing, but essential.

Option 3 is the hermit crab’s choice. What’s yours?

Want to be different?

Check out this hermit crab with a Lego shell:

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