Using an elephant to get the whole picture

elephant with quote

I have just been thinking about a project review that I did a little while ago, and somehow this lead me onto thinking about the story of the blind men and the elephant! I have in fact just been to a presentation on an engineering project that I did a project close out review workshop for. I though that perhaps I would write something interesting about it, the presentation I mean. But instead I found myself thinking about why the review worked. The people that I talked to asked me about why the review included people from different disciplines, and actually different companies (client, contractor and designer were all present in the workshop that I facilitated). The simple answer is because that was what the client required me to do! But on the face of it, that mix may well not have worked, as everyone may have had a different agenda and wanted to get their own point across. I think that is actually why it worked, everyone did have their own ideas and voice, and perspective and were able to say what they thought. That was the point of the review to get everyone’s ideas.

So then I found myself thinking about different points of view and somehow this story popped into my head. I am not sure where I first heard the fable, it is an old and well known one and I have come across it several times.

In case you are not familiar with it, it goes something like this:

Long ago in ancient India an elephant walks into a village where there lived six blind men. They had never come across an elephant before so they all wanted to go and touch it to find out what it was like. Elephants being rather large, each man only manages to get a feel of one part of the elephant so that the first man touches the leg and says “ooh it’s a pillar”, the second man touches the tail and says “its a rope”, the third man touches the trunk and says “its the branch of a tree”, the fourth man touches it’s stomach and says “its a giant wall”, the fifth man touches the ear and says “it’s a big fan” and the sixth man touches the tusk and says “it’s a spear”.

They then argued that each of them were right and that each of the others were wrong. Of course they didn’t know that each of them had touched a different body part. A wise man then came along and explained to the men that they had all had a different part of the elephant and that in fact they were all right, and all wrong at the same time.

Of course there are several different messages the could be taken from this story, a well quoted and oft referred to tale. But the thing that it means for me, is that individually we all have different perspectives and different experiences that we can add to a situation. We all experience things differently and we all have our own ways of looking at things. If you just take one person’s view then it might not be right, or it might not be the whole picture. But if you allow several different people to say what they saw, describe what they think or offer their opinions then you get a much more rounded picture.

This applies to the different disciplines in the workshop I delivered. Whether you are the person doing the constructing, designing, or managing, whether you are the person at the beginning or the end, or whether you work for company A, B, or C shouldn’t matter. Everyone’s opinion is valid and if you gather all those opinions, not just the ones that are believed to be the most valid or important, then you will have a much stronger and much more multidimensional understanding of the situation.

Elephant with quote

 

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