A few weeks ago, I met a couple of old friends for dinner to catch up after far too long. While many aspects of our lives have changed since we last spent time together, we still share the same enthusiasm for good food and craft beer, which is reassuring on a number of levels.
We met at a quirky seafood restaurant that I had never been to before, but my foodie friends assured me that I would approve. After finding a few empty seats at the bar, we soon became immersed in conversation, discussing the exciting updates in our lives.
As we spoke, my eyes began to wander the room, taking in the nautical décor and obvious regular visitors, eventually resting upon a sizeable fish tank on the back wall. I did a double-take and caught a glimpse of a claw of a most peculiar color, moving almost lazily through the water, as if conducting a half-hearted wave to casual onlookers like myself.
After a bit of squirming on the barstool, I was able to see the full creature—a lobster. Not just any lobster, though. An orange lobster. A decidedly not-red lobster.[i]
Wanting to know more about this not-red lobster, I asked the chef about it as he walked by the bar. His eyes lit up as he heard my inquiry and he spoke in a familiar way, as if he’s accustomed to answering this question often but clearly doesn’t mind doing so. “That’s Hector, our unofficial mascot of sorts!”
“Ah, the plot thickens,” I think to myself. “The not-red lobster has a name. Surely he isn’t going to be eaten…”
My concern for Hector’s well-being and life expectancy must have shown in my expression, because the chef immediately said, “Oh, don’t worry, we plan to keep Hector. That lobster is far too rare to cook.”
Until this particular evening, I had never given much thought to the various colors of lobsters, much less the potential likelihood of each. Perplexed by this novel observation, I asked the chef just how rare Hector was. As it turns out, the odds of an Orange Lobster existing in the wild are about 1 in 30 million! [ii]
The polite chef was kind enough not to point out our dumbfounded reactions as he told us the story of Hector. A fisherman caught this eccentric crustacean off the coast of Maine, immediately recognized the significance of his discovery, and gave the lobster to the chef as a gift. Hector has become somewhat of a celebrity since his [iii] arrival—the regulars enjoy seeing him each time they visit, and the newcomers request to see the elusive Orange Lobster that they’ve heard so much about from their friends.
After reflecting upon this curious conversation with a friendly chef, I have taken away three lessons that we all can learn from Hector, the Orange Lobster:
- Remember how easy it is to start a conversation.
Many of us have trouble striking up a conversation with a stranger, and sometimes we give up before we even try. This is especially true of introverts like myself, as we tend to keep to ourselves until we are approached. However, the art of conversation is an important skill, especially in the business world. In the case of Hector, I had nothing particularly profound, witty, or interesting to say on the subject of lobsters at the time. I simply made an observation and asked about it. Little did I know that I would soon learn about how rare an Orange Lobster really is, or that the chef had a personal story about this particular lobster.
By expressing interest in something outside of my own understanding, I learned a great deal about a strangely fascinating subject, and I just might have made a new friend in the process. Such conversation-starters could be as simple as commenting on someone’s watch or glasses or drink of choice. There is a story behind every object and action, just waiting to be heard. For those of you who struggle to start conversations, forget the elephant in the room—ask about the Orange Lobster.
- Seek out new experiences.
Many of us eventually fall into a routine from week to week, as our schedules can be fairly consistent for the most part. While a structured life is certainly important, we must be willing to deviate from our routines every now and then. On this particular night, I could have stayed at home rather than going out with my friends. The usual excuses presented themselves: it’s a weeknight, I already have leftovers in the fridge, I have work to do here, my favorite show is coming on, etc. I’ve learned that the one thing you can always find if you’re really looking for it is an excuse.
Simply put, I could have stayed home and I didn’t, and because I didn’t, I experienced something pleasantly out of the ordinary. I discovered a new restaurant, had a delightful time with great company, enjoyed a wonderful meal (a red lobster roll… Sorry, Hector), and had a lengthy, remarkable conversation with a stranger. There is a metaphorical Orange Lobster to be found each day, if you’re willing to look for it.
- Embrace what makes you different.
While I’m not well-versed on the level of self-awareness of lobsters, I will assume that Hector knows he is orange, or at least noticeably different from other lobsters. We all have our own unique characteristics, gifts, and talents, and we owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to identify them, to embrace them, and to develop them as best we can.
Find what makes you different from others—as a person and as a company—and cultivate that difference to set yourself apart from the crowd. Dare to be rare, even a little weird, and don’t apologize for it. Strive to offer something unexpected and noteworthy. Cause strangers to look twice at you and smile. Be an Orange Lobster in a sea of red.
Be on the lookout for the Orange Lobsters around you! At the very least, you’ll get a story out of it.
[i] I realize that most lobsters are typically brown when they are alive, only to turn red when they are cooked. This makes Hector’s coloring all the more significant. Regardless, I still associate lobsters with the color red. Don’t you?
[ii] It would be a crime to discover what color an Orange Lobster turns when cooked. You might as well slay a unicorn while you’re at it.
[iii] I recently discovered that Hector is a lady lobster, not a dude! Really, Hector? Weren’t you already getting enough attention? I kid. That’s actually awesome.
Photo credit: AP Photo, Julia Cumes