Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good Old Elephant Story

Remember the story of the Elephant and four blind men. How every person feels one part of the elephant while blindfolded and reports what he ‘sees’. I’m not sure what was the lesson back when my mom would have told me the story…she probably didn’t spell it out and left it our imagination.

The story of course has great universal appeal because it’s so simple and yet so powerful. If the four men were left to argue, they would continue on and on about what they saw…If the four men are dumb they’ll continue making the same point again…and if they are smart they may form a better, more complete understanding of the animal.

Life and work is so much like that. Our opinions are shaped by what we have seen, our own experiences and our perspectives.  

Many a times I see smart people arguing to great lengths about how things should be…and many a times all they have is one reference point. “I saw this at so-and-so place” or “I know this is how it is”.

Lets change the course of the story, a little, and figure what the four men could ‘agree’ on.
- An elephant is a living breathing being
- An elephant is large
- An elephant is something I have not yet seen visually.
- There are other people who ‘view’ elephant much different from myself.

With the above agreements, it would be much simpler to move forward…
- Each person sees respect for their own views
- Each person accepts, ‘there may be more out there’
- There are some agreements, so people aren’t from different planets

Once people are looking for agreements, they can find more.

Everybody is correct in what they report, but they aren’t complete. In today’s complex world, it’s increasingly difficult to be ‘complete’ with what you know. There’s way too much out there to know it all. The only way to make a larger, better understanding is to pool in knowledge, perspectives and opinions from different sources.

When people come up to you and say something that you don’t agree on…it’s very likely that the person was at the other end of the elephant !


  1. Hi Rahul,
    A very basic and simple story.....but high moral values. I loved the write up.
    This story stands very true in today's complex and fast corporate environment.

  2. "In today’s complex world, it’s increasingly difficult to be ‘complete’ with what you know. ".With wikipedia and google, it is increasingly vast knowledge open to us and with that knowledge, a permutation combination of millions of opinions formed . What is right and wrong is relative. We should respect and argue with an open mind and arguments could be fun. As you said "Everybody is correct in what they report, but they aren’t complete.".