Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Will Businesses See The Elephant In The Bigger Picture?

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.

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9 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , | April 12, 2010 by |

  1. On April 12th, 2010 at 4:48 AM Meredith Bell said:

    Great points, Tanveer! In addition to all the methods you mentioned for companies to get ideas for staying strong going forward, I would add the importance of a mastermind group with people from industries outside your own business. Getting fresh ideas from other successful business owners/executives and asking "How can I apply that in my company?" is powerful. The group members also help keep you accountable for translating ideas into action.

  2. On April 12th, 2010 at 8:22 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Meredith and that's an excellent point you bring up, of getting an outside context to your business. While it's understandable that companies want to keep an eye out on what their competition is doing, it's also important that they look beyond their industry to see how other companies are addressing the common problems all businesses face. One reason I think the automotive industry faltered the last few years is because they were so busy looking within their own industry that they were becoming oblivious to the problems they were all mirroring to one another.

    Bringing in a fresh perspective also helps to get business leaders thinking about why they are approaching work in the manner that they are by getting them to take into account the larger picture, and not just their share of the elephant.

    A great point, Meredith, thanks for sharing it in this discussion.

  3. On April 12th, 2010 at 7:44 AM Kelly Ketelboeter said:

    Thank you so much for sharing the story of the 6 blind men and the elephant Tanveer! It is a great representation of the challenges that companies are facing today. Taking a holistic approach is critical and engaging both customers and employees in the process will create a win-win approach. Often times personal agendas can get in the way of viewing the entire picture and can blur your perceptions. It's up to the leaders to bring everyone together and get them moving in step towards the same thing, fulfilling the mission of the organization. This is a fantastic reminder to get back to the basics.



  4. On April 12th, 2010 at 8:43 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Kelly, glad you enjoyed this tale about the blind men and the elephant.

    I think it's in our human nature to find that one fits-all solution that will address the problems that we face. And yet, that's where the role of a leader comes into play – to be able to take those crucial two steps back so as to take in the bigger picture, in order to ascertain what role the different elements of their organization play in defining the whole. From that vantage point, it's easier to understand that there isn't one solution, but a combination of approaches that will address the different requirements for a company's growth and prosperity.

    Again, glad to hear you enjoyed this piece, Kelly, and thanks for adding your thoughts to this discussion.

  5. On April 12th, 2010 at 8:27 AM Tanmay Vora said:

    Great post Tanveer – and thanks for sharing that story of six blind men. I remember my parents telling that story in my early years.

    As a business grows, the awareness about the larger picture grows – but it is only useful if senior leaders in the organization are not blinded by their own experience. It is easy to fall in “know-it-all” trap without realizing that what worked in the past may not guarantee success in future.

    I loved the point you make in involving people in decision making process.

    Understanding power of innovation and continual improvement is a must – along with an eye on broad market trends and how technologies will shape up/impact the future of way businesses are done.

  6. On April 12th, 2010 at 8:11 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Tanmay; I had a feeling you might have been told this story as well growing up.

    You're right that it's important that leaders don't fall into the trap of relying solely on past experiences to determine their future successes, if not also for the false sense of security it provides that what was achieved in the past can understandably be attained in the present or future. While it's vital that companies acknowledge their successes, it should be balanced against asking the question "what do we do next?".

    Thanks again, Tanmay for sharing your thoughts on this.

  7. On April 12th, 2010 at 10:12 AM Ronald de Jong said:

    Thanks Tanveer, great post.

    It's the competence of the business leaders that defines what the priorities should be. There is a nice book "The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels: by Michael Watkins. Tools like Customer Focus Groups will help to define the priorities.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

    Ronald de Jong

    Ripples Business Development

  8. On April 12th, 2010 at 12:12 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Ronald. You're right that a core competency of business leaders has to be understanding what are the priorities of their company. The trick is understanding how to manage the balance between managing the details against the context of understanding how they fit into the bigger scheme of things.

    I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this discussion.

  9. On April 12th, 2010 at 12:18 PM Peter said:

    Great analogy! I really like it!
    Recently I started posting interesting analogies I found on the web on blog.ygolana.com. I thought it could be a good idea to create a place where people can share useful analogies.

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