The Blind Cannot See a System

Method / Communication and Skills


The Blind Cannot See a System
Ayele Abdata, Member, Manager, Ethiopia

The whole is greater than the total sum of its parts.


This view is the direct response to the Ancient Asian story about the blind men and an elephant:

A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, "elephant is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.

The story can teach us many things:
1) The blind can never see a system. That big picture is a system, not separated organs. If we do not see the big system as a group of interrelated (inseparable) organs that work together for a common goal, we are just a blind, and we weaken the organization rather than make it stronger.
2) The story can also be a good example to have a holistic approach to understanding and solving problems. We have to examine and study the whole system as interrelated organs rather than amputating and prescribing aspirin to a piece. In holistic medicine, for example, the physician must examine the whole man (body, mind and spirit) rather than treating just the symptom.
By considering the big picture as a system, we can understand, save, make and manage our organization to quality product and service. A manager should have an open mind and all-rounded perspective toward his/her firm.

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