Otolith is about creating direction, balance, and acceleration.
That year, the Indignados occupied plaza Catalunya to protest against the cuts made by the Spanish government. On May 27, I witnessed how the police cleared the plaza. Some people looked defeated; others were outraged. Few resisted as the blue wall of helmeted police officers appeared.
The day before, I had walked through the many tents and stalls. The atmosphere was not at all grim. It was almost like a festival. There was discussion, singing, and also trading. The indignados occupied the plaza illegally, but they didn’t bother very much either. I remember talking to someone who had studied to be an engineer but couldn’t find work. He was going to move to Germany, the land of the Maschinenbau. I think they would have welcomed him there.
I walked on and reached the museum of contemporary art, MACBA, via the Rambla. Actually, I went there mainly because of the architecture of the building. It is a work of Richard Meier and a landmark in the Catalan city .
Almost casually I walked into the exhibition of the London-based artist collective The Otolith Group. They were showing work from the project Hydra Dacapita. I remember being stimulated in two ways: by the art but also by the name of the art collective.
Once outside, I looked up the meaning of the word Otolith on my Blackberry. Since then I have used the word Otolith as a metaphor to shape and direct my work as a business leader, HR professional, and now as a consultant. This booklet is a reflection of that reflection process.
Let us first describe what an Otolith is and what it does.
Every vertebrate animal, including humans, has otoliths. You find them in the inner ear and they allow humans and animals to have a sense of direction, balance, and acceleration. Without these organs, humans are directionless, dizzy, confused. We just fall to the ground when something is wrong with our Otoliths.
Otolith is a compound word and comes from Greek oto (ear) and lithos (stone). Otoliths are found in the vestibular system.
Otoliths are very small in humans but are proportionally larger in e.g. fish. For fish, they are also used to determine the age of the fish post mortem.
Functionality and Proportionality
Otoliths are larger in fish because fish float in water. There are fewer sensory experiences that determine balance, direction and acceleration. Otoliths are thus proportional to the situation in which the organism finds itself. Where humans have tactile and visual sensations, fish have much less.
When I was standing there at the MACBA I thought that every organism needs direction, balance, and acceleration. So does every human being and every organization. The functionality of an otolith is physical, but we also need it on a mental level. What if everyone had a “mental otolith”?
And what if organizations were built with the functionality of an otolith? Direction, balance, and acceleration are the basic functionalities of what leaders must provide to the team or organization for which they are responsible.
David Ducheyne founded Otolith in 2013. It was a one-man keynote show at the time. The inspiration for the name came already in 2011. David kept the name when he founded a consultancy in 2018.