Nice Work, If You Can Lose It: an Axolotl-Style Career Move

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

Fox News' Judge Andrew NapolitanoGetting canned is supposed to be like getting caned—a clear sign you’ve rubbed somebody the wrong way, gotten under their skin and are getting whacked for it. Yet, the recent otherwise under-reported story of the Fox Business News cancellation of Judge Napolitano’s breathtakingly bold, indeed audacious and top-rated libertarian-oriented “Freedom Watch”, suggests a very different, opposite lesson: In employment, one can advance two steps forward by taking one step back, i.e., by getting kicked upstairs.

Napolitano, a gutsy straight-talking, hard-hitting former New Jersey Superior Court judge suggests as much himself, in his parting message to his fans: “In television, shows are cancelled all the time. Two of my former shows have been cancelled, and after each cancellation, Fox has rewarded me with more and better work.” (Source: Paul Joseph Watson,

If he is right, his next work or show should be mind-bogglingly fascinating and important, since incisive and insightful “Freedom Watch”, which debuted on the Fox Business Network (FBN) in June 2010, was, as I saw it, the most—make that the only—outspoken government-leery, corporation-bashing, anti-war, liberty-championing watchdog show I’d ever seen on a major network (Jesse Ventura’s “Conspiracy Theory”, currently in hiatus, having been broadcast only on cable).

Axolotl and Career Recoveries

Equally fascinating, but in a totally unexpected way, is how Judge Napolitano’s career trajectory at Fox eerily relates to the strange physiological powers of limb and tail regeneration in an obscure but remarkable Mexican salamander called the “axolotol”. If amputated, an axolotl’s limbs and tail will regrow—normally and completely. The key similarities to the process by which Judge Napolitano’s career has advanced at Fox News are that

  1. both the Judge and the axolotl land on their (new) feet, so to speak, after being cut.
  2. their recoveries seem to defy common sense in that they are recoveries from losses that normally are    serious handicaps and virtually, if not completely, insurmountable or fatal.
  3. their reversals are double-reversals: not only setbacks, but also reversions to a prior stage of (physiological or professional) development.

AXOLOTL BY LoChiLekBecause it is so similar to the gutsy judge’s career history, yet unusual and remarkable, this “recovery-through-reversal” process as it occurs in an injured axolotl deserves a detailed explanation. When an axolotl’s limb or tail is amputated (ideally, by accident, rather than human design), something strange happens before it fully regenerates: The cells of the tissue destined to regenerate undergo reverse evolution and regress to an evolutionarily earlier, less specialized cellular form and level of development—as though they are taking a big developmental step backward in order to recover and advance.

In Judge Napolitano’s case, it appears that the axolotlesque despecialization and regression have already begun: In a February 2012 press release mentioning the cancellation of “Freedom Watch”, the Fox Business Network said, “Currently one of the leading judicial analysts on television, Judge Napolitano will continue his role on both FOX Business and FOX News, providing key legal insights surrounding the growing intersection between Washington and Wall Street that he is being assigned on-air roles as a general consultant and commentator on legal issues pertaining to business.”

If the axolotl pattern holds hereafter as it has in his past, he should, in time, fully recover from this setback and see his career grow into bigger and better things.

(This is not the only huge evolutionary surprise that the axolotl serves up: It is also a “neotenic” species—a creature that, although when fully grown is adult in size, is actually an oversized juvenile, in this case, a larval form of a normal salamander. Being neotenic, although the exception, rather than the rule, does characterize other species, including—or so the evolutionary biologists say—humans, who are described as overgrown chimpanzee fetuses, much as the typical alien in an SF movie resembles an overgrown human fetus.)

So, what happens to axolotls whose limbs are cut off has been mirrored in what has happened (so far) to Judge Napolitano when his shows have been cut: one step back for one step (or eventually more) forward. As the French famously put it, “reculer pour mieux sauter” (“to run back to make a better jump forward”).

Because the Judge’s career can evolve more quickly than the axolotl species, his capacity for regeneration doesn’t pause at mere recovery; as he has described it, the post-recovery jobs have been even better than the ones lost.

(For a brilliant analysis of the similarities between axolotl reversal-based regeneration and the developmental pattern of human creative processes in science, humor and art, you cannot do better than to read Arthur Koestler’s masterpiece, The Act of Creation. For science history buffs, there is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which Kuhn describes the same 2-step process of reversal as advance-through-undoing, in the history of “paradigm shifts” in the sciences—a process in which the old prevailing views are gradually destroyed and their rubble used to erect a new theory and world view, e.g., the replacement of Aristotle’s earth-centered planetary system with the Copernican sun-centered model.)

As for other sciences, there is the analogous principle in chaos theory that states that increases in complexity arise from spikes in instability and disorder, the presumptive antitheses of complexity, much as despecialization and regression of its cellular tissue is, at face value, the opposite of regeneration of a more specialized, developed and restored limb.

Clearly, in going out on a network broadcast limb, Judge Napolitano ultimately got it sawed off by Fox News, despite a strong showing. But if axolotl physiology does provide any predictive clues, he will, in short order, be growing a new and maybe stronger limb to challenge and another leg to stand on—and with which to take another strong stand.

..At least until his next higher-up can’t stand it and the Judge’s out-on-a-limb “limb-bough” format.

Read more in Career Change

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).