Metamorphosis or Metamorphoses? The lifelong process of transformation

By Dr Gilu George
A metamorphosis is a change. When looking at the definitions of “metamorphosis”, the words “abrupt”, “stark” and “profound” are used to describe the process of change. When we hear “metamorphosis” we often think of caterpillars transforming into butterflies – representing just a single change. But I see my life journey as not just one profound change, but a series of profound changes from one stage to the next.



Since I was little and as far as I can remember I was a book worm and enjoyed reading, but at the same time I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. When we are young, we are supposed to have career goals and if I am to name a career that I wanted to follow as a little girl, it was to become a doctor and I thought studying science would be ‘the best way’ I could make a difference to people. Do we all end up where we dreamed we would be? If only life were that simple and we all moved in a straight line trajectory! Let us be honest, it will have worked for some, but many of us when faced with ‘sink or swim’ situations, took the opportunities that came along, tried things, failed at times, got up again and kept on moving.

Looking at where I am now, my career path is not a typical one at all. Nor did it go according to plan. I was a researcher at heart; a scientist who thoroughly enjoyed designing and carrying out precise experiments and analysing information. But then I hung up my lab coat and moved away from that world of cloning genes and molecular genetics into the Research and Innovation space, enabling the development of new and innovative products, processes and services.

As much as I loved benchwork, I had reached a point where I was keen to be doing something in the ‘enabler space’ to make a difference at the interface between science and society. It was still close to Science, but this involved understanding the commercial research landscape and long term capability needs of business and working with different stakeholders outside academia. This was not in my comfort zone, and I was not too sure I could do this, but decided to take a leap of faith. A stark move from fundamental research and managing my own experiments, to working with people to ensure delivery of impactful research.

Scientific training gives you a whole range of capabilities that can be put to use in all walks of life. As a scientist, you are by default studying, writing, analysing, speaking in public and thinking critically, and you have to embrace teamwork, leadership, ethics and creativity. You have an essential tool in your pocket - a systematic, rational approach to problem solving. These skills are enormously valuable, and they helped me to succeed in a key part of my new role; that of navigating through the wealth of information available to help select the most appropriate projects and partners. Working at Cranfield gave me many opportunities to initiate and lead some pioneer projects offering unique solutions combining leadership, management and technical expertise. I wanted to stay at Cranfield, and started considering existing opportunities at my current institution while taking a step back and considering personal values and preferences.

Thus came my next metamorphosis - another transition into the new territory of Learning and Development, working in Cranfield Executive Development which is committed to unlocking the potential of people and organisations. Surely it would be an easy shift rather than a metamorphosis? I had been working in a people focussed field after all. How different and profound could this be? Well, it was definitely different.

A shift from the empirical, data driven world where repeatability and reproducibility of data are paramount, to the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world of executive development needed a profoundly different mindset, a stark shift of attitudes and values, and the acquisition of radically different skills. Moving away from being ‘at the bench, focused on a microscope’ and ‘black and white’ answers to picking up the phone, talking to people constantly about changes, all while trying to understand the concept of ‘lack of any right answer’ and intellectual ‘grey areas’! Being a good manager, taking care of the people that work for you, proactively influencing the thinking and behaviour of people, problem solving and coordinating activities and resources require nuanced people skills, far more than what was expected from me as a researcher.

The ability to deal with uncertainty is critical in an increasingly VUCA world and yes, there are a lot of skills that can be learned, which you can work at and develop over time. It’s not all built around inborn personality traits, but many of them can only be learned while on the job, when facing those scary uncertainties and those unforeseen crises. I never sat down and thought “I could probably do that”. I only realised “I can do this!” afterwards.

Was that metamorphosis worth it? Absolutely, I enjoy my job and it is as simple as that. My days are incredibly varied and offer different challenges each day. But it is hugely rewarding to think that what I do, often behind the scenes, is a small step in making a difference in people’s lives - towards developing a culture of continuous learning and growth through executive programmes that transform people and organisations.

I personally believe that the best reasons to do anything is to enjoy whatever we do, and to keep up a curiosity and passion to learn something new. People are not caterpillars: metamorphoses don’t have to just happen once, we are all ‘work in progress’ and transformation is a lifelong process.


About the Author

Dr Gilu George is the Director of Associate Network at CED. Her role includes enabling the delivery of a range of executive development interventions by ensuring access to a fit for purpose network of external associates with the right knowledge, skills and experience to deliver quality Cranfield brand teaching, subject matter expertise, facilitation, programme management, coaching and other deliverables to corporate clients and open enrolment participants, both in the UK and globally. She is an Experienced Director, Senior Manager and Scientist with strong industry and academic networks and a demonstrated history of working in the Higher Education industry.

Tags: leadership, article

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