The Pike Syndrome

The pike is a fierce carnivorous fish that eats other smaller fish. They are cunning, mean, and always find a way to get their prey (sounds like some people I know who work on Wall Street, but I digress). Scientists conducted an experiment where they put a pike in a tank with many other smaller fish that they pike would ordinarily devour. Instead of the normal feeding frenzy, the scientists separated the pike from the smaller fish by inserting a layer of glass which prevented the pike from reaching its dinner.

The hungry pike continuously smashed itself against the glass trying to get a good meal. As much as it tried, however, it was unsuccessful in breaking through the barrier. After many attempts, the pike become discouraged. It stopped trying to break through the barrier and eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and just laid there. At this point, the scientists removed the barrier allowing the pike to feast.

What happened next was surprising to everyone. The pike continued to ignore the smaller fish, even when they were swimming right next to the pike. The predator remained at the bottom of the tank, and ended up dying of starvation even with plenty of tasty fish easily within his reach.

This phenomenon is known as the Pike Syndrome and it shows that we can become paralyzed by imaginary barriers. We may not even consider a whole set of possible solutions due to fear or some other made-up obstacle. It also helps us realize that we need to respond to changes in the environment. If the pike had simply responded to change once the barrier was removed, he would be fat, dumb, and happy. Instead he starved to death since he held onto an assumption (the smaller fish were unreachable) even when the realities of the situation had dramatically changed.

Of course, this type of imaginary obstacle doesn’t only happen to fish. Think about all the things you have avoided doing based on some preconceived notion or arbitrary fear. We let norms, mores, and rituals cloud our judgment when making decisions in today’s real-time world. We often get so bogged down with outdated rules and procedures that we fail to adapt our work to present-day circumstances. When this happens, we open ourselves up for gigantic threats from hungry and fast-moving competitors. Evolve or die. Darwin would be proud.

This week, think about what’s holding you back. Is it real or fictional? What are your imaginary barriers? How are they stopping your best ideas from running free? What can you do to adapt to the challenges of today instead of grasping to the barriers of the past? This week, make sure you are a feasting pike and don’t let self-defeating, outdated challenges get in the way of playing your best game.