Lesson from Six Blind Men
Many of us have heard the story about six blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. After one man touching the tail describes a rope, the man touching the trunk disagreed and said it was like a snake. The man touching the ear explained they were both wrong since it was a fan and the man touching the side announced it was like a solid wall. Disagreement mounted as the man touching the tusk compared the elephant to a spear while the man touching a leg insisted it was a pillar. An argument ensued. In some versions, the men stop talking to each other; while in others, they start listening to each other and recognized their perceptions were incomplete. Personal experience had led them astray. We can learn a valuable lesson from this story about six blind men.
The following lines are attributed to the Buddha:
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
The ending to some versions comes when a sighted man comes by and sees the whole elephant. Recognizing how each held a partial truth while ignorant of the larger picture is a lesson that today’s leaders need to contemplate. One point of view cannot capture reality and being blinded by a firm but incomplete conclusion distorts thinking and planning.
The next question that arises is how does a leader grasp the full reality? We frequently rely on teams in the hope that they possess a diversity of experience. However, this fails to be true. Groups are not always diverse and peer pressure can squelch new perspectives. To ensure a complete and accurate grasp of current reality, questions from six mindsets need to be asked and data collected before jumping to a conclusion, decision or action.
- How can we take our existing products/services to a new level?
- How can we leverage technology?
- What will keep us unique?
- What is the competition doing?
- What will grow our share of the market?
- Are we learning from and retaining our key customers?
- What will ensure smooth execution?
- What will improve our monitoring effectiveness?
- What will improve teamwork?
- What is the cost/benefit analysis?
- How can we reduce costs or improve cycle time?
- How can we boost quality and safety?
- Do we have the skills/staff we need?
- Are rewards/recognition aligned and used effectively?
- Are we developing our talent/bench strength to match our strategy?
- What emerging customer trends need to be addressed?
- Are our assumptions valid?
- How can alliances or partnerships help us?
Getting things right isn’t a matter of IQ, style or charisma. When faced with complexity, ambiguity and change, we must explore the total picture or we will end up arguing from our limited perspective, wasting time, energy and opportunity.