The man who loved dragons. When rhetoric meets reality.

Once upon a time there was a man who loved dragons.  He had pictures of dragons on every wall of his house.  He had dragon curtains, a dragon carpet, even a dragon duvet.  When he slept at night in his dragon pyjamas he’d dream of dragons.  When in the office he wore a dragon tie and had a dragon screensaver on his computer which sat neatly next to his dragon mouse mat.  In his spare time he loved to paint pictures of dragons, read stories about dragons or watch carefully selected films from his vast collection of dragon related paraphernalia.

The queen of the dragons got to hear about this man so thought she’d pay him a visit to say “Hi.”  She flew to his village, landed outside his dragon shaped house and knocked on the door.  The man opened the door and, on seeing a real dragon standing right in front of him, screamed and ran for the hills.  The queen was confused and a little upset.  When she returned to her kingdom she told her wise friend about the man.  Her wise friend explained to her that this was a man who liked the idea of dragons but not dragons themselves!

Most organisations seem to like the idea of creativity.  Or disruption.  Or transformation.  Or novelty.  Or difference.  And many of them talk about these things constantly.   They have posters about them.  They give speeches about them.  They promise rewards to those who can bring them to life.  They convene conferences or workshops to discuss how great these things are.

But often, on coming face to face with the reality of these concepts, they retreat towards the familiar.  Scared by the moment when theory becomes practice.  When rhetoric becomes reality.  When a neatly presented abstract concept becomes a messy, disorienting lived experience.  When the dragon actually shows up at the door to say “hello.”  The same can be true of our own personal development.  When we realise that we have fallen in love with the idea of something but are not resilient or open enough to tolerate the rather more intense and unpredictable reality of it.  It is much safer to remain in the world of  hypothesis and good intentions.

So, if you are frustrated that nothing seems to change around you, take a moment to look at the pictures on your walls, the images on your screensaver, the patterns on your pyjamas and ask yourself…”how serious am I about dragons?

The story of the man who loved dragons is a traditional Chinese parable that I have adapted for telling in modern times.  I’d like to acknowledge Tai Chi teacher Peter Hutchinson for first telling me this story.
The picture accompanying this blog was commissioned from 10 year old CSS Chief of Imagination Maya Chapman.  It is her own visualisation of the story.
This previous blog provides a number of questions to ask oneself to check how serious we are about wanting more creativity in the workplace.
  1. Maria Lorente-Perez says:

    A superb post for what – unfortunately – rings very true in many organisations. We want all this … for as long as it only demands it from those around us, never from us. Perhaps that might be the reason why most things seem remarkably identical, despite the change in “flavour of the month or year” … and yet, change will inevitably come.

    Thanks Steve once more for a great reflection!


  2. Angelita says:

    When I heard you tell this story to a group, it resonated a lot with me (and I believe also with the group). I found myself sharing it with close colleagues, and also taking it beyond the professional context to the more personal sphere.

    I am very glad you wrote it on a blog, because we could tell the group where to find it. But I have also found myself saying ‘have you heard Steve tell the story of the dragon?’ and point people towards this blog. Of course, the magic of seeing you work with the group fully in the moment is not captured in the blog, but it does put skilfully into words a somewhat familiar experience of the type of confusion that makes you think ‘wait a minute, I thought this is what you wanted’.

    Lately, when I have that experience of ‘jolt’ I find it useful to wonder if this might be a ‘man who loved dragons’ moment. Thank you Steve!

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