The Blind Men and the Elephant

Graeme Nichol

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The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! But the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second feeling the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see, ” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain, ” quoth he;
“’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see, ” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Well you are now probably wondering whether you have signed up for a poetry course or one about management and management planning. Replace each of these wonderful men of Indostan with a member of your team. As a way of explanation let’s look at a management team made up of the CEO, CFO, CTO and all the other C’s. Each comes to the table with many years of experience and study behind them. They come with a thorough understanding of their role in the company but a limited understanding of the other C’s roles.

Now imagine your revenue is on a downward trend and you have come together to try and reverse this trend. Each member will see the problem and solution from their own familiar position. You will sit around and argue long and hard about how to tackle this problem. If each took a tour of the ‘elephant’ and tried to understand each part and how each part makes the whole then it might become clear that the elephant has a thorn in his foot and therefore can’t walk to get his food and water and so is becoming malnourished.

Understanding each part of the elephant and how they come together to make the whole is what Peter Senge calls ‘systems thinking’ and is one of the five disciplines that make a learning organization.

We are not saying that the CFO needs to go and get a marketing degree and work in marketing. But if each member of the team listens and tries to understand the whole ‘elephant’ rather than stating their position more and more firmly, then the team has more chance of reaching a true understanding. The team has more chance of fixing the problem and achieving success.

Open your eyes and see the whole ‘elephant’ for what it truly is.

Graeme Nichol, Principal of Arcturus Advisors. Please visit their website at Arcturus Advisors works with business teams where individual members spend more time protecting their turf and their image than working together. We get team members to value and respect the individual members and achieve results that far exceed individual contribution.


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