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Crabs in a Bucket

Sep 14, 2021

by Aubrey Patterson


There’s an interesting phenomenon that plays out when a number of live crabs find themselves in a bucket. If alone, most crabs could easily pull themselves up and out of their current situation, but once in a group, their natural inclination is thwarted by other crabs who pull them down.  

This certainly can seem cruel and it might well be. A slightly more optimistic perspective is that the crabs act in this manner out of ignorance, and they are pulling on anything in a desperate situation. 

Crabs in a bucket syndrome is analogous to toxic culture. It takes little thought to tie the analogy to the jealousies, thoughtless actions, and harsh words that can infect mindsets and pull down individuals and organizations. 

Eventually, everyone loses in a culture that insists upon operating from the lowest common denominator.

But we aren’t crabs. 

 It’s better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. (Confucius) 

We can take a deep breath and ask ourselves whether we might be misdiagnosing colleagues as crabs, when they might be fearful and desperately seeking help. 

It’s pretty rough out there. 

Perhaps we need to boost others before attempting our climb out of the bucket. 


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