By Matt Mattson
There is an old story that you might have heard before about a species of insect called processionary caterpillars. I know that Zig Ziglar (whose books we recommend you read — all of them!) has been heard telling this story, and many others have written about it (as seen here and here).
Anyway, it is far too applicable to the collegiate Greek world, and especially fraternity/sorority recruitment, to not put our own spin on it and see what lessons we can learn. So here goes.
Apparently, back around the turn of the 20th Century, a researcher named Jean-Henri Fabre did an experiment with this fun little species of caterpillars. See, the thing that made these caterpillars unique was that they had an instinctual drive to travel one after the other as they search for food. They basically follow their leader no matter what, in a long processional line.
Well, it turns out our researcher friend, Jean-Henri, was a little sadistic, and to to test out how strong the caterpillar’s following instinct was, he did an experiment. He took a small group of these caterpillars and lined them up in a full circle — head to tail — all the way around a tea cup saucer. And in the middle of the saucer he put some food.
Well, what do you think happened? Sure enough, the little buggers followed one another around and around and around in circles, certain that whoever was leading their little parade was moving toward the food. And they kept going and going and going. Soon, they started to die from exhaustion and starvation. All the while, the food that could have kept them alive was just 6 inches away.
O.K., so how does this apply to the fraternity/sorority recruitment world? Well, I’m guessing it is obvious to most readers, but I’ll happily spell it out for anyone needing a little help. Nearly every chapter I’ve bumped into across the country has at least a little of this processional caterpillar instinct. When it comes to recruitment, they follow the example that has been set for them. Even if it means they keep going in circles with their recruitment results never improving.
If your chapter or community is wandering aimlessly in circles, however, there is good news. The food to feed your membership starvation is only inches from your path. The trick is understanding that if you want a different result, you have to be willing to try different methods.
To be honest, we’ve been frustrated on several occasions by this caterpillar-like behavior from groups that we’ve worked with. Often we’ll have participants approach us after a Dynamic Recruitment Workshop and say, I love these ideas, I’ve read your books, and I really agree with everything you say! We’ll be excited by this, and six weeks later we’ll follow up with an E-mail or phone call to see how the progress is going. Of course, like the caterpillar, the participant will know how to make improvements, have the tools and preparedness to make improvements, but will be too ingrained in the “status quo” to experiment with the new methodology that he/she has learned.
Luckily, we work with a lot of groups that have brave, revolutionary souls hidden within their ranks. Real change in chapters comes from these individuals who choose to step out of the procession and re-direct their group toward excellence. That is real leadership.
Be brave and step off the path paved by your “traditions,” and “status quo.” After all, who knows if you’re being led right direction? Maybe you’re just following other caterpillars in a doomed procession of mediocrity.