Brad Feld

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Are You A Camel, A Lion, or A Child?

Jan 25, 2021
Category Writing

I’m working on a new book with Dave Jilk, my first business partner. It is titled The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche: A Book for Disruptors. We are in the home stretch (it’ll be published sometime in the second quarter), and I’m adding a little connecting tissue to the major sections this morning.

The third major section (of five) is called Free Spirits. Dave had already written the section introduction, which meant that I had 20% less writing to do this morning than I expected.

As I read through what he had written, I remembered the story of Nietzsche’s “The Three Metamorphoses,” which I’ve been using a lot lately to think about my own life. Following is an appetizer from the upcoming book.

For Nietzsche, the best human beings are what he calls free spirits. Early in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a section called “The Three Metamorphoses” describes three stages a free spirit must pass through in its full development: the camel, the lion, and the child.

The camel is a dutiful beast of burden, in a humble but not humiliating way. It is virtuous and willing to bear any difficulty to accomplish what is needed. But the camel is isolated from those who choose the comfortable and easy, leaving its spirit in a “desert.” In this desert, the camel transforms into the lion, which actively opposes tradition, taboos, and the status quo. In particular, the lion responds to the “Thou Shalt” of the world with a “Holy No.” The lion is a contrarian, an isolated iconoclast. But a spirit cannot create new values simply by saying “no” to the ways of the world. For that, it must become the child, which has a “beginner’s mind,” sees the world as play, a fresh start, as perpetual motion. The child speaks a “Holy Yes” which enables it to dictate its own will, not in reaction to the world but independently. As spiritualist Ken Wilber puts it, these transformations do not each supersede their preceding stage but rather they “transcend and include.”

It is not hard to see how this maps to disruptive entrepreneurship. The camel gets things done but is too embedded in the tasks of the moment to produce more than incremental change. The lion sees what is broken in the world and refuses to just go along, but has no way to find a truly novel path. The child frees itself of its attachments and starts fresh, enabling it to create an entirely new way of doing things that shakes an industry to its foundations.

If you are a free spirit, what stage of metamorphosis are you in: Are you a camel, a lion, or a child?