Are you struggling to explain the aspects of a change that has many different components or ways of working? I know I do and so when I discovered the story of the six blind men and an elephant it provided a major breakthrough in my ability to communicate my story… I hope you find it helpful too…
The story of the six blind men and an elephant originated in India, it is a story that is used to illustrate a range of truths or fallacies. Six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like so each one feels a different part of the elephant, but only one part. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ears says the elephant is like a big fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a huge wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a sword.
Each blind man was right. The reason every one was telling it differently was because each one touched and was touched by a different part of the elephant – the elephant has all these features.
I recently holidayed in Thailand and decided to meet an elephant myself. North of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi, I was introduced to ‘Apo’ a 20yr old female elephant. I offered her bananas when we met and I noticed the gentle way her trunk sniffed them out, curled them up and scooped them, skin and all, into her soft pink mouth. She was so gentle that I felt no fear in being so close to such a large, strong animal. We walked down to the River Kwai, wading waist height into the water and, with a gentle command from her trainer, she knelt down so I could climb on her back. Her short hair felt bristly against my legs, her skin was smooth and tough, and when I stroked her head it felt like a living rock – hard, strong and alive. I was instructed to take hold of her ears and I held the smooth skin gently for fear of pinching them. With a second instruction she began shaking her head left and right, rocking me in the process and before I knew it her trunk reared up and squirted me full in the face with a few gallons of river water!
And so the next 40 minutes continued, she threw me off into the water, I’d climb back on, she’d shower me with more water and the sequence resumed. I laughed with joy and squealed with delight as if I were 5yrs old. When our play had finished we rode bareback to the camp, her walk was steady and rhythmic and the steam rose from our bodies in the 40 degree heat. I dismounted from my new friend and I gave her some more bananas – playing with an elephant was unlike anything I could ever have imagined, throwing myself fully into the experience and trusting my guide. That day, I grew somehow inside after fully experiencing what an elephant was like.
Why do I share this story? Well, when I am asked ‘What is the Changepace System?’ I ask what the individual already knows ‘Well isn’t it about meeting practices, After Action Reviews and having roles in meetings?’ In reply I sometimes relay the story of the six blind men and an elephant for yes, our approach can be experienced as improved meeting practices, but this is only one aspect (or leg) of the fundamentals of the Changepace system. The whole ‘elephant’ is something very different, an experience of working differently, one that helps a business unit or a team align behind its goals; a team that has clarity in how it will drive the delivery of these goals, knowing whether it is winning or losing and a team that is relentlessly focused on continuously improving how it delivers, root causing problems when they arise and regularly reviewing what is working and what could be improved. The Changepace system is not what you do, it is what you get when you focus on a set of simple ways of working. The true value is delivered when you apply the principles and practices of each of the seven practices together, not just singularly.
So one question remains – to experience the full ‘elephant’ of change in your organization you need motivation, a desire to improve or be better – for elephants their motivation usually comes in the form of a banana – so my question is… what is your banana?