Partnering – Perspective & Diversity
There is an ancient parable about blind men and an elephant. This originated from the Indian subcontinent and there are range of versions now. Central to the story is a group of blind men who have never come across an elephant before. They each start to feel the elephant in order to conceptualise it. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant's body, but only one part, such as the tail, the side, the leg or the tusk. As they describe their limited experience, their descriptions of the elephant are different from each other. Each of them, of course, having a limited experience and therefore an incomplete understanding of an elephant.
The parable is used to explain humankind’s tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people's limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true. This is a prime example of parts of social media. But this also has an important truth to help us understand the ‘power of partnering’.
When we lead by ourself, when we run an organisation without connecting and partnering, we have a limited view, our view. Now we may have a lot of experience, we may have journeyed this way before, but we still only have our experience to draw upon. We are like a blind man that has felt part of the elephant. Depending on how much we have felt will depend on the picture that we have. When we partner with others, particularly those who have a different set of skills or have different experiences to us, they will have felt a different part of the elephant. When we combine our views, we get a fuller picture and can make a more informed decision. Partnering can be within your organisation. You can partner with those who are ‘on the shop floor’ for their perspective. You can partner with someone outside to get their view. Asking a customer what it is like to be them, dealing with your organisation, can help you get more of a 360-degree view. Knowing what works for them and what could be better allows you to see the side of the elephant that is not so attractive! But you can then do something about it.
Partnering with others allows you to get a fuller picture. Partnering with those who are diverse from you, helps you to see it in 3D. Matthew Syed talks about this at length in his book, ‘Rebel Ideas’. If we just ask those of the same view as us we will just get the same view shared. Who thinks differently to you? What do they see? Who has a different experience to you? What do they see? Who has a different culture to you? What do they experience? Who has a different belief to you? What do they feel? Who has a different gender or orientation to you? How does it feel for them? Of course, when we ask people who look at things differently, we are likely to get a perspective that we have not seen. A perspective that might cause us to question our experience and to see it as in conflict with our view. But the key here is to think of it as adding rather than taking away. It is not that it takes away our perspective or experience. It adds to it.
So, as you consider your organisation, who can you partner with informally or formally that will enhance your view? Who can give you a better 3D view of things to help you plan forward?