A circus keeps a baby elephant from running away by chaining it to a stake. When the animal pulls at the chain the cuff chafes its leg, and the baby elephant concludes that to avoid pain it best stay put.
But when the elephant grows up, the circus still chains it to the same small stake. The mature elephant could now pull the stake out of the ground like a toothpick, but the elephant remembers the pain and is too dumb to use the new set of facts—how circumstances have changed. The tiny stake keeps a two-ton elephant at bay just as effectively as it did the baby.
Many executives are too dependent on old facts, on outmoded conventions, or are still basing decisions on what worked twenty years ago. This is elephantine decision making.
Source: What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack