Snails are part of the lineage of mollusks known as gastropods, which literally means belly-footed animals. There are as many as 50,000 species of snails living all over the world in seas and oceans, fresh bodies of water and even terrestrially, adjacent to water. They are peculiar-looking animals known for their singular foot, slow movement and beautiful and intricate shells. The primary function of the snail’s shell is protection. It shields the small gastropods from predators and helps to prevent desiccation. The spiral shells form gradually, extending from the opening. Shell growth is a continuous, two-part process—first a very thin, transparent outer layer called the periostracum is formed; second, the mantle of the snail secretes calcium-rich inner layers, reinforcing the new growth.
Snails’ shells are steadily growing and regenerating. They develop for the entire length of the snail’s life with new growth appearing atop the current infrastructure. Every time a new layer is added, small vertical lines appear on the shell. The width and regularity of this transverse stria, as they are called, depends greatly on the age, species and environmental conditions during a snail’s life. The stria of the snail is like the rings of a tree—they can tell you volumes about the snail’s past.
Other small organisms such as crustaceans and even some bugs use other means when regenerating. Some of them shed their entire exoskeleton and then grow a new one. This leaves them weak and vulnerable while the new exoskeleton forms. Snails, even when they do not inhabit the older portion of their shell, must carry around their obsolete body parts. While this may seem like a hindrance, they are, on the whole, much safer than their crustacean counterparts.
Although unaware, snails serve as a fantastic metaphor for the importance of continuity. Their slow, methodical movements allow for infinite growth potential. Through their history in the form of striations, we can see where they have been and how they were affected by their surroundings. Their expansive growth is persistent throughout their life. Even if they move slowly, theirs is always a forward motion, carrying with them all knowledge of where they’ve been.
The spiral shape of the snail’s shell helps us remember that adaptation is a continually cycling process. Collaboration works by building upon other people’s strengths. Each experience of an individual or organization increases their knowledge. These experiences can also create continuity by acting as stepping stones to new projects.
Continuity allows projects to build on one another instead of starting over each time. By reusing and rebuilding infrastructure, resource management systems and resources, collaborative organizations have a vantage point and can ascend faster to higher levels of productivity. With endless possibilities of how to grow, expand and transform, this collaboration cycle could tap into the infinite.