One of my favorite stories is that of six blind men and an elephant – a parable wherein each man sought to understand what an elephant was by touch, and each man came away with a radically different interpretation based on what part of the elephant he happened to touch. One man touches the elephant’s trunk and concludes that the elephant is like a snake; another happens upon its leg and discerns that the elephant is more akin to a tree; still another grasps the ear and asserts that the elephant is like a fan, and so on. They become frustrated and angry with one another over their oppositional views, and it is not until a man with sight happens along that they realize that each one is right, and that none of them have the full picture. While the tale has frequently been used as a point of philosophical musing, I find it salient in the realm of modern business.
How many times have you sat in a meeting where two individuals adhere to passionately expressed, yet differing opinions? How often have you reflected that both of them have excellent points, although they seem to talk past one another in their effort to assert their perspectives? I frequently find that such apparently clashing views are actually complementary – the technician who is focused on the individual components required to build a solution is not really opposed to the strategist who is focused on the overall business purpose. Rather, both perspectives are necessary for the team to achieve their goals.
It is all too easy to become ingrained in a particular mode of thinking, especially when such thinking empowers us to excel in our daily tasks. Our reality is hard deadlines and deliverables; a perspective that does not directly facilitate these can be an unwelcome interruption, or even counterproductive. At the same time, considering an alternate point of view – especially one radically different from your own – can generate fresh insights that might not otherwise arise. For example, we take for granted that spreadsheets are the go-to resource for many ad-hoc calculations – but are they necessarily the best solution (http://www.confluence.com/blog/a-love-hate-relationship-with-spreadsheets/)?
Speaking personally, my own perspective has evolved dramatically throughout my career at Confluence. The analytical thinking that served me well as a technician empowered me to adapt to Unity Financial Reporting; from Unity Financial Reporting, I’ve learned to generate corporate financial reports. Learning to listen to our clients about their daily challenges positioned me to listen to my team about their personal and professional challenges. Most importantly, I’ve learned to never stop questioning my assumptions – whether it’s about a piece of software, a business problem, or what drives a colleague to make and hold on to a statement.
Do I have a full view of the elephant? By no means – but I’m working on it, one sight at a time.