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Three Blind Men and an Elephant: A Business Parable

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 6, 2009

There is an old story about three blind men and an elephant that is said to have originated from India.  Each one touches a different part of the elephant, one the trunk, one a leg, and one the tail.  None of them can agree on what an elephant really is.

Here is a modern parable based on the elephant story:

The sales guy wants to know, “What size companies are our target customers, small, medium, or large?”  Translation:  How big are my deals, how many do I need to close to hit my quota, and how shall I go about closing them?

The marketing guy wants to know, “Where do our target customers go to learn about new products?”  Translation:  Where should I buy ads?  Who should I buy mailing lists from?

The CFO wants to know, “What kind of margin do we get on that business?”  Translation:  What am I telling the Board and Investors about profitability?

The engineer wants to know, “What kind of hardware and software will they run my software on?” and “Why would customers want to do that?”  Translation:  How will customers interfere with my pristine architecture?

The professional services person wants to know, “How many hours can I bill while installing this software?  How little training can I get by on giving my consultants?”  Translation:  I just want to bill profitable hours: as many and as often as possible!

The elephant they’re touching is the customer.  None of them see the customer as they really are, but only as the customer affects them.

I was listening to someone tell me the other day about budgets and how it is hard to sell something that’s good for a company but doesn’t fit any one’s budget or goals.  Everyone will applaud the new idea, but then point there finger to the next guy to take responsibility. 

That’s the problem with Elephants.  And Customers.  No real organization, or at least no successful one, is quite as polarized as the parable suggests, but even a little polarization can obscure important issues that stand in the way of success.

What are you doing to make sure your organization sees Customers and not Elephants?

One Response to “Three Blind Men and an Elephant: A Business Parable”

  1. Chui Tey said

    Bob,

    I haven’t heard of this twist on a familiar tale. I especially loved the line:

    “The elephant they’re touching is the customer. None of them see the customer as they really are, but only as the customer affects them.”

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