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  • Writer's pictureAnushruti

The Theseus Paradox of Workplace


The Ship of Theseus is an interesting thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced, remains fundamentally the same object or not. The basic principle is that if you have the Ship of Theseus, and over time to save it from decay, if you change one plank of the ship and replace it with a new one, then at the end of a given period: Do you still have the Ship of Theseus or have you got something completely different?

People have some very interesting opinions and examples on this paradox. But the idea behind introducing this concept in the article is to show that at least in workplace- Replacement of the decaying part is indispensable for the ship to remain useful and working.

In the context of Leadership:

We often struggle with our identity at workplace. We want to create a name for ourselves and prove to be promising. All of us aspire to be leaders, and expressing and defending our thoughts and opinions is the first step towards establishing ourselves as one. But does that mean that if our previously expressed viewpoint has become obsolete, we still try to defend it?

The answer is NO. In order to become successful leaders, stay relevant and continue growing- we need to embrace the change of thoughts, views and ecosystem. As it is said- change is inevitable and ones who fail to accept it, wither away like the ship would have without replaced decaying planks. By sticking to the fear of changing our stance, we might end up with a decayed and dysfunctional ship- which anyway has no identity!


In the context of Individual Growth:

This point is not only limited to accepting that our viewpoint or way of functioning yesterday is not the best one today, but also highlights the importance of learning, unlearning and relearning. What got us here, might not be good enough to help us get to our next milestone of success.


Begin by identifying the old planks and unloading them. Maybe the way of communication of our brand to employees or customers is outdated and there is scope of improvement. Maybe the way we use to manage and motivate our employees is outdated. Maybe the fixed work hour’s concept is not good enough for the new creative workforce. May be the way we define our target market is outdated. And many more. We need to keep trying to challenge our current best thinking. We should invite others to play devil’s advocate on our assumptions and to interrogate our thinking. This unlearning is the prerequisite to making smarter decisions as we navigate the unchartered ground ahead.


We should ask more questions because our learning is capped to the extent of our questions. We all are victims of confirmation bias, thus we need to put in extra effort to scout for answers that contradict our assumptions.Think about the areas of growth, the skills and expertise that would be needed to take up the next level role. No degree is sufficient and learning is not limited to colleges. It’s an imperative for flourishing in life.


And no one said, change or replacement was easy. Sticking to familiar ways can spare us of psychological discomfort but it puts us at risk of losing our place in a world changing and rapidly marching forward.

Organizations are made up of employees who are in constant need of repairs and improvements just like the famous Ship of Theseus. Success of the organization is hence dependent on their ability, effort and intention to grow and change.


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