Whenever we’re asked by clients to explain our approach to Business Process Improvement or Re-Engineering, we invariably begin by telling the parable of the “Nine Blind Men and the Elephant.” Here it is:
Nine blind men surround an elephant. Each is grabbing the elephant in a different place. Someone asks each of the blind men in turn “What’s an elephant like?” The blind man holding the elephant’s tail says, “An elephant is like a rope.” The man holding one of the elephant’s ears replies, “An elephant is flat, like a pancake.” Yet a third blind man, with his arms wrapped around one of the elephant’s legs, responds, “An elephant is shaped like the trunk of a tree.”
And so on.
The point of the parable is simply this: Each of these men is right — for his part of the elephant. Yet, in the more important, holistic sense of accurately describing what an elephant is really like, every one of them is ultimately very wrong.
Seeing the “Whole Elephant”
In our view, this parable perfectly mirrors what life is like for so many people who manage a piece of an important business process. All too often, although they are acutely aware of their part of a given process — the part they “touch” — they are “blind” to its other pieces and, therefore, completely unaware of what the whole process really looks like. Without this ability to see “the whole elephant,” as it were, they also can’t ever properly understand how what they do affects this important process or others involved in it. Given this reality, is it any wonder, then, that so many of our business processes are sub-optimized and so much less effective and efficient than they could be?