The Venus Flower Basket Glass Sponge (euplectella aspergillum) is a type of deep sea animal. It’s also an endangered one.
The sponge extracts silicic acid from seawater and converts it into silica, forming an elaborate skeleton of glass fibers. This ocean animal concocts a cylindrical glass-like tube which mimics the shape of a vase. Kinda cool if you think about it.
Comprised of super complex geometric patterns, these sponge skeletons are the topic of extensive research around firmness and yield strength. By way of contrast, an aluminum tube of equal length, thickness, and radius has approximately 1/100th the durability of the Venus Flower Basket, making these tough, but delicate looking sponges – peculiarly significant. These curious creatures can be found in various oceans, but are located predominantly at great depths (20-3,300 feet) where the water is frigid, and the level of silica is high. It’s despite these ocean depths that the Venus Flower Basket not only grows, but flourishes.
Also fascinating about this sea animal is the symbiotic relationship it enjoys with a certain type of shrimp. In parts of Asia, for example, dried Venus Flower Baskets have traditionally been given as wedding gifts because the sponge provides a home to two small shrimp (one male and one female), who all live happily together. The papa and the mama shrimp do their mating thing, which inevitably ends up with baby shrimp, whom (at a very early age and contrary to human offspring) leave home to find a Venus Flower Basket all their own. According to biologists, the shrimp inside the basket cleans it, while, in true cooperative fashion, the sponge provides nourishment for the shrimp by trapping food particles in its tissues.
But, there’s something more to be gleaned here than some shrimp-based-oceanic-trivia. Nature is giving us lessons on how to work beautifully, even under pressure. Here are just a few:
#1 Pressure can be the catalyst for great productivity.
The Venus Sponge flourishes at ocean depths where the water pressure crushes other life forms. The point here is to consider ways to work where constructive stress is sought. I’m not talking about the kind of stress that leaves staff burnt out, taking vodka lunches or deciding to make leis on the roadside in Hawaii. Rather, the kind of positive tension that pushes for better problem-solving, more agile thinking and diverse ideation.
#2 Building something extraordinary requires tremendous detail.
The thousands of glassy fibers that attach the sponge to the ocean floor are as thin as human hair, and are laid down one at a time. Indeed – a suitable reminder for each of us toiling in the office or on the production floor. Meaningful work is not the output of a one-day event, so it shouldn’t be viewed on the same level as driving through a fast food joint. In other words, the Venus Flower Basket isn’t called the “Ugly Glass Glob”. Building an elegant and complex structure (as in a cylindrical vase shape) requires daily commitment (such as tiny glassy fibers) which are meticulously and thoughtfully laid, one endeavor at a time.
#3 Forging strong workplace relationships with cross-functional departments can yield a symbiotic relationship.
The Glass Sponge relies on shrimp (certainly an entirely different species just like your colleagues down the hall). But it’s the very fact that shrimp are completely different, which allows the sponge to build its remarkable glass skeleton. A Venus Sponge doesn’t clean itself, nor does it tidy up the sponge next door. It needs help. As do you. You, and your team, are probably missing a needed skill set which can likely be found in a different department or function within your organization. What do you need? What can you offer your workplace partners in exchange? An odd pairing they may be, but the sponge and shrimp aren’t the only critters in nature to forge a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
Victoria Tucker Co-Founder / CEO, ZBglobal, Inc.
Victoria Tucker is the Chief Dreamer at ZBglobal, where she lends her 25+ years of experience on pivotal topics like workforce collaboration, engagement, mentoring and project management. She also plays ukulele…but not very well. Reach out to her! And, don’t forget to check out her friends and colleagues at the San Diego Zoo Global BioInspiration and Tech to Reconnect Centre – they’re the experts when it comes to learning from nature and in working to conserve our planet’s endangered species.