What’s An Elephant?


In India there’s a story about three blind men and an elephant. Lacking one of the key senses, they have only their hands to explore what an elephant is all about.

One feels the tusk, “Clearly an elephant is like a spear, sharp and dangerous!”

Another feels a leg, “No, no – an elephant is like a tree trunk, sturdy and still!”

The last grabs hold of the tail, “You’re both wrong! An elephant is like a rope, strong and useful!”

Though the blind men are all having perfectly legitimate experiences with parts of the elephant, none of them can see the animal for what it truly is – a combination of all these things and so much more.

We tend to see our jobs, relationships, and the world at large primarily from our own vantage points and always through the lens of our own experiences.

When I guide groups of stakeholders through the branding process, I see this phenomena a lot. With many working parts, it’s easy to get entrenched or myopic in one’s role, especially after working hard in a particular niche for a long time.

Even an organization with a really clear mission and informed stakeholders is not exempt. More often than not, I find that stakeholders may share the same set of core values, but their beliefs and attitudes about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it might diverge wildly. They might have a grasp of the “larger picture” but come at it from really disparate points of view. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it means that, over time, there’s organizational drag.

Since branding is so much about external and internal perceptions, finding out why the internal disparities exist and identifying ways to bring them into alignment is critical to the organizational cohesion needed to truly embrace and champion an evolving brand identity.

And when we’re done figuring out who’s seeing what, we can “feel the elephant” together, or in more practical terms, leverage these unique perspectives to build a new brand.

The moral of this story? When you rely solely on your own perspective, you’re bound to miss something really important.

A fuller experience of all things – be they in business or in life – exists when we challenge ourselves to go beyond what we know, explore new perspectives, and collaborate in the unknown.