The Specialist and the Elephant

The Specialist and the Elephant

The famous story, of course, is of the blind men who are all describing different parts of an elephant. One feels its tail and says an elephant is like a rope. Another feels the trunk and says it’s like a tree. And still another feels the trunk, and says it is like a big snake.

As consultants, our job is to guide our clients into territories they are less familiar with. When my client says she wants to grow her business, I know she might express this by the part of that she knows. “I want to get found online, using SEO.” Or, “I want a shiny new website that will attract more customers.”

AndI know to honor each of these requests as a heartfelt expression of their desire to prosper and flourish — even if they aren’t always so clear about how the parts of the elephant fit together. And big part of my job is to help them see it.

Namibian wildlife in their natural habitat. February 2020.
Photo by Eelco Böhtlingk / Unsplash

If you are a business owner, watch for the specialist whose whole world is that tail, leg, or trunk. If you hire an SEO specialist, everything can look like an SEO problem. Hire a graphic designer, and everything can seem like a graphic design problem, and so on.

Business owners get into trouble when the person they hire is only a specialist in a part of the elephant, and nobody has the context to see the whole. “The blind leading the blind.”

Furthermore, many specialists consider their job is to provide the service in question. So, if:

  • You, the client presume all you need is a beautiful website, and
  • I, the web designer am “following orders” to build you what you said you wanted…
  • Then I have just built you what you said you wanted; never thought it was my job to tell you that was not the whole picture; but now, you have a partial elephant on your hands.

The trick is to be aware when you need a bigger picture view of your situation, or just to get some specific work done.