DIEM – The Blind Men and the Elephant

Saxe’s poem of the six blind men and the elephant is an excellent metaphor for the basic nature of the problem. Decisions tend to be about the future, and when it comes to the future we are all, if not blind, at best short-sighted. The modern world is, like an elephant, very complex with different parts that we would not imagine go together. With the continuing increase in the complexity of modern business e.g. globalisation, changes in demographics, technological innovation, the importance of perception and branding etc., the ability of a small group of decision-makers to understand enough of ‘the truth’ to make and implement decisions is decreasing.

And so we rely on groups, and on the inputs and resources of many stakeholders, to help deal with the different parts of a problem. Different stakeholders each have knowledge and experience of ‘a piece of the truth’ i.e. their areas of expertise, just as the blind mens’ observations each represented a piece of the truth. But, given these different view-points, just agreeing what the problem looks like is difficult enough, let alone reaching a decision on what to do next. So, when it comes to contentious issues that need agreement to move forward one can often say, as Saxe does, “…each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong…”.

The combination of complexity and needing to bring together diverse stakeholders means that strategy and decision must become more focused on the ‘synthesis’ of experience rather than the analysis of option. Techniques for creating a shared history from a diverse group of stakeholders will allow them to reach a decision that takes full account of their experiences and gains the buy-in necessary to ensure any decision is implemented.

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