When I was growing up, my parents would often share with me the stories and parables they were told as children back in India. One of my favourites was the story of the blind men and the elephant. In the story, six blind men were asked to describe what an elephant is just by touching it. One by one, the blind men touched the animal and said an elephant was like a tree branch, a rope, a fan, a pillar, a pipe and a wall. Confused over who was right, the blind men were told that the reason for their different answers was because they had touched different parts of the animal, namely it’s trunk, tail, ear, leg, tusk and belly. As a parable, the message is clear that we must never lose sight of the fact that our perception of the world around us can be very limited, preventing us from understanding the bigger landscape.
In the context of the challenges facing businesses today, this story bears some valuable messages for leaders facing the question of how to ensure their company’s continued growth and viability in the years ahead. Like the blind men in this tale, many different ideas/solutions are being handed out to explain how to address the current challenges companies face today.
In some circles, innovation is being pushed as the next necessary step, with the emphasis on execution instead of merely the process of generating ideas. Others see the opportunity for growth being directly linked to engaging their employees by recognizing the importance of their contribution and giving them a greater voice in the decision-making process. And then there are those who are pushing for businesses to get more involved in the arena of social media by paying more attention to what their target audience is saying about their products/services, throwing their doors open to seek input from their customers on what areas would be best served by the company’s efforts for improvement.
Faced with so many different answers, it’s not hard to understand why businesses and their leaders are unsure as to which of these approaches will truly help their companies to succeed and prosper.
So, which answer is the right one? As we saw with the story above, it’s not so much a question of addressing which avenue is the right one for your business as it is understanding that each of them represent one part of a greater whole; that approaching them separately only leads to a mis-perception of reality and that the true path to success lies in understanding how these elements connect to one another to create the full image of the future.
As we move forward, it’s critical that companies realize that they can’t afford to rely solely on one perception of how their businesses can thrive in the coming years. As much as innovation is needed to encourage new products/services and improvements to existing ones, companies also need to have a firm understanding of how these new developments will add value to the lives of those within their target market. Similarly, while it’s clearly a necessity that employees be brought more often into the decision-making process in order to give them a greater sense of involvement and investment in the company, it’s also vital that businesses listen to what their customers are saying in order to understand what needs are not being met and what they can do to address that deficiency.
So, will companies see the bigger picture in this changing business environment? As seen in the story of the blind men and the elephant, the only way companies can gain a greater understanding of the challenges they face is not by relying solely on the perception of those in charge, but by embracing the input and insights provided by those they serve. Only through such communication and collaboration can we truly appreciate what kind of elephant lies before us as we look to the future.