Fishing with Ghost Nets

Earlier this month, my wife and I took the trip of a lifetime — to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The archipelago is one of the world’s special places, where animals and humans can and do share the environment in harmony. The experience of sitting on a beach within arm’s length of sea lions and penguins, or swimming with giant sea turtles and reef sharks is an amazing and humbling gift.

That the Galapagos remain almost as pristine as they were when Darwin visited in 1835 is a testament to the government of Ecuador and the work of hundreds of passionately dedicated naturalists who devote their lives to study and conservation.

One of these special people is Juan Carlos Avila, who guided several of our out trips. Juan Carlos told us about the many human threats — some systemic and some mindless — to marine wildlife. One such threat comes from fishing vessels operating hundreds or even thousands of miles from the Galapagos. Some operators, when their nets become damaged or frayed, simply dump them into the sea since they are cheaper to replace than to repair. Unfortunately, these discarded nets keep fishing, trapping and killing thousands of creatures, sometimes for years — a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing”.

Juan Carlos’ story made me think of our own “ghost nets” — the many outdated thinking patterns (some personal, some organizational) that we unconsciously harbor. These old habits of thought may once have served a purpose, but now they trap us in unproductive ways of thinking. Often we assume we’ve thrown them away. But they’re there. And they keep fishing, controlling our responses to new ideas and new people, limiting our ability to embrace change.

One useful way to recognize our own ghost thinking nets is to pay attention to those instant reactions we all have when confronted with “different” ideas. Whenever you feel uncomfortable about a new idea, ask yourself why. Is it because the idea really is a non-starter, or is it because your ghost nets are still fishing?


The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes

photo by Rick Gunn

Posted by Tim Hurson

1 comment

We have our own ghost ideas that can entangle us and it’s good to recognize that. It can also help us understand the resistance that other people display in the face of a new idea or change of some kind.

The challenge of trying to figure out if resistance is related to it being a bad idea or just an idea that doesn’t fit in the given boxes is an important function of leadership and value-driven creative process. We resist some ideas because they actually are inadequate responses to a need.

It isn’t original with me but I like the short-cycle beta test – with human process as well as product process – as a way of understanding the sorting process better. Putting a bit of substance around an idea and tossing it into stream of life outside my or someone else’s head is a good way to get some objective feedback.

Thanks for the post.

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