The spiritual connection between a Knowledge Manager and a Spider

Since time immemorial, animals have featured prominently in the Indian culture. They are found almost everywhere. They are present in the earliest found instances of cave paintings and sculptures engraved on the temple walls. They are companions of the deities whom we worship and more often than not they symbolize something i.e. from power, grace and beauty to dignity and wisdom.

Keeping this as a backdrop, I asked myself, what would be that animal that symbolizes the principles that I, as a knowledge manager exercise in my quest to earn a living by doing what I love doing. I started ticking off the animals and to my surprise all my favourites faded away in front of the business case posed by the ‘Spider’. Intrigued, I asked a few of my friends on what comes to their minds when they hear the word spider. It ranged from ‘horrid’ to ‘disgusting’ to ‘mysterious’ and ‘intriguing’. But the one which stood out was the ‘newspaper’ and the ‘rule of proximity’. A few days of introspection followed and soon I realized that the spider has evolved to become my spiritual guide. Let me tell you why.

I start with the story which most of us had read in school. Yes, I am talking about Robert the Bruce and his motivator, the humble spider. As he lay in the cave about to give up hope, the spider weaves its magic and grabs his attention. She tries to throw the thread from one edge of the cave wall to the other and fails again and again (six times to be precise). Robert the Bruce sympathizes with her but to his great surprise the spider tries her trick the seventh time and succeeds. The rest as we know is history. Over the last decade or so, Knowledge Management as a discipline has taught me that failure is indeed an option. Thanks to my spiritual guide, I can now truly relate to these lines:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
– Samuel Beckett

It takes a garden spider around an hour to spin its web. But more often than not, she needs to start all over again. Bigger creatures than her ensure that all her hard work goes to waste by ruining her creation through the casual flick of a hand or a broom. But she does not whine and sticks to what nature has taught her – spin the web again. More often than not, her tenacity wins the day for her. It takes a huge amount of effort to establish a knowledge sharing initiative but it does not take much to push it towards failure. Thanks to my spiritual guide, I have realized the virtues of patience, perseverance and tenacity.

The spider’s web on the face of it looks fragile and delicate. However, it is a lot more robust than what its appearance suggests. Similarly, as a knowledge manager, my network may not outwardly look strong and sustainable beyond the boundaries of an organization and a geographical location, but it is indeed a lot more durable than that. Experience has taught me that the effort that goes in weaving relationships translates into contacts that last a lifetime. So thank you again, my spiritual guide.

I had started with a story. Let me end with another one. This one is part of the Mississippi Choctaw folklore and is entitled ‘Grandmother Spider Steals the Fire’. In the story, Grandmother Spider volunteers to steal fire from the people of the East to provide a solution to the dark, cold world of the Animal People, Bird people, Insect People and Human People. However, she is overlooked as the more illustrious Opossum and then the Buzzard is chosen ahead of her. They fail miserably in their efforts and the Crow is selected to have a go next. The Crow does not fare any better and with no option left the Grandmother Spider is chosen reluctantly. She succeeds in her mission but when she comes back, the Birds, Animal and Insect people become apprehensive and choose to stay away from the fire.

Then a small voice said, “We will take it, if Grandmother Spider will help.” The timid humans, whom none of the animals or birds thought much of, were volunteering!
So Grandmother Spider taught the Human People how to feed the fire sticks and wood to keep it from dying, how to keep the fire safe in a circle of stone so it couldn’t escape and hurt them or their homes. While she was at it, she taught the humans about pottery made of clay and fire, and about weaving and spinning, at which Grandmother Spider was an expert.

Her generous act was remembered by the Choctaw and they created a beautiful design of her and decorated their home with it. This was done to ensure that their children would always remember and honour the Grandmother Spider, the Fire-bringer. To read the full story, please click here. Thanks to the Grandmother Spider, I have realized that knowledge once acquired needs to be shared and not hoarded. And this is a principle which applies as much to the Knowledge Managers as their stakeholders.

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