Being Unusual: The Art of a Flying Duck
Have you ever paid attention to a flying duck? I get to observe ducks a lot since they fly around my suburb quite frequently. What caught my attention though, is how sloppy they look when they fly. With their short body-to-wingspan ratio ducks try really hard when they fly! And if you have seen a duck land, you know it’s not easy for them either. But they still do fly—they’re successful and playful. Do you think we could learn anything of significance from a flying duck? Could ducks have something to teach us about being unusual?
The Mallard, one of the most familiar ducks in North America, has a top speed of over 60mph! According to allaboutbirds, “migrating flocks of Mallards have been estimated traveling at 55 miles per hour.” Not only that, but when migrating, they can travel for hundreds of miles at a time losing about half their weight in the process! Is that determination or what?
Ducks have many predators, but when they take flight they become the safest. Ducks are mainly aquatic and flight is effortful—it demands them to burn a high amount of calories. You may have noticed that ducks don’t look harmonious when in-flight (unlike hawks), but they are extremely successful while flying. What we can learn from them is fascinating:
- Effort beats talent
- Intention beats strength
- Courage beats certainty
- Adaptability beats specialization
We praise birds of prey. They look so elegant while flying. Birds of prey are talented, strong, and have this intimidating stare that makes them especially attractive for national emblems. And ducks—well, they are aquatic but take flight (and walk just fine); they are not that strong but endure migration; and although they are not as praised, they help keep a wild feel to our urban sprawls.
In the corporate world, we tend to admire the top executives. The CEO becomes something like a bird of prey: individualistic, over confident, and culturally disconnected. You can do better. Ducks teach you to be different: to honor your differences, to praise effort over looks, and to admire unusual flight. In Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel asks some intriguing questions: “Are all founders unusual people? Or do we just tend to remember and exaggerate whatever is most unusual about them?” He describes that founders’ traits tend to be eccentric and if plotted, appear to follow an inverse normal distribution. He says: “The lesson for business is that we need founders. If anything, we should be more tolerant of founders who seem strange or extreme; we need unusual individuals to lead companies beyond mere incrementalism.”
Cultivating your unusual traits, like the art of a flying duck, goes beyond founders! In any organization, we must learn to recognize and encourage creative, duck-like people. Think about what unusual traits you can be proud of and embrace them. And how do you find your unique traits? Just look at your setbacks. What unique challenges have you dealt with? These setbacks have shaped you or are shaping you. Embrace them. Learn from them.
Being unusual means you might do something different but valuable! So be yourself and engage in activities that require effort and courage to take flight. Let’s express that duck in all of us—it won’t appear as elegant or impressive as a hawk and it might be judged, but that’s where the real growth (and strength) lies.
Juan F. Diaz
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