I’ve been thinking a lot about the Indian parable of the seven blind men and the elephant. For those who don’t know this story, it’s about how common it is to see only part of the whole and draw incomplete conclusions. In the parable, each of the blind men touches a different part of the elephant, and each one experiences it uniquely. To the man touching the trunk, the elephant is like a long tube; the man holding the elephant’s ear might argue that the animal is like a big, tough leaf, and so on. The point is that each perspective is technically accurate – but each is incomplete because it is limited to that individual’s personal experience.
I’ve used this analogy a lot in my career, but it’s been coming up more frequently lately, as business problems and the associated solutions are becoming more complex and multifaceted. In driving transformations with clients, I often find that they are looking to solve only part of the whole, or they don’t yet understand the complete picture they need to address.
For instance, in solutioning for a large warehouse transformation, it might be easy enough to consider adding sensors and mining lots of data to optimize processes – while at the same time entirely overlooking the fact that human behavior and material quality might also be contributing to muted efficiencies. That’s why it’s key to look at problems from multiple angles.
One of the people who has thought the most about how to address the “elephant problem” of limited perspectives and how it relates to making lasting human and organizational change is Usama El Saman, the Toronto Geo Leader at Hitachi and one of our Organization Effectiveness SMEs. On November 15, Usama presented "Making Change Stick" to the Toronto chapter of the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP).
Usama talked about the need for organizations to be more adaptable and flexible in their approach to the challenges of the digital age. That means looking at problems from multiple angles and embracing – yes, actually embracing, not fighting – the notion that change is constant in business, just as it is in life.
There is no finish line, no “finally, we’ve arrived” moment. Instead, business today is all about welcoming disruptions and making nimble course corrections based on the knowledge you’ve gleaned from a diversity of perspectives.
At Hitachi Consulting, we recognize that complex problems require multifaceted teams and approaches to ensure that the “entire elephant” is well understood. That’s why diverse teams are so critical in the early stages of embarking on digital transformations with our clients. In fact, we recognize diverse teams as one of the five keys to successful human and organizational change.
I’m not gonna lie: Having diverse perspectives can be challenging at first, as each person brings a strong point of view that is both accurate and limited (by definition). However, working through and understanding unique perspectives and valuing them – in other words, having a culture of curiosity (also one of our top five dimensions) – is critical to designing transformations that address complex challenges in their entirety.