Elephantine Decision Making

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

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  1. Great to read a story after a long time – I look forward to read more of such inspiring/engaging stories here.

    There are numerous examples of people who engage in elephantine decision making. Elephantine decision making generally takes place when:

    – One strongly holds on to your past experiences (e.g. I did this at XYZ place 10 years ago and it worked)
    – One does not keep his/her eyes/ears open enough for new ideas to come in. Business climate changes, market situations change and if you are not adaptive/open to these, you are bound to take decisions based on your limited knowledge. Ignorance, in this case, is not neccessarily blissful in this case.
    – One is not connected – to right resources and right people. Reading contemporary material, connecting/networking to people is very very essential to break barriers of old thoughts and unlearn/re-relearn.

    There are cases where even after being aware – people still do such decision making because taking any decision involves risk of getting out of your mental comfort zone – not something all are comfortable with.

    Thanks again for such an insightful post.

  2. This article is realy interesting and it is true fact till date, most of the seniors are in a same loop of keeping there old concepts and running the show with out realising the changes and new enviorment of working.

  3. This is truly interesting story and reflects the bitter truth that is still followed like a ritual. The best example is the indian political scenario where elephantine decision making is a regular practice. The new concepts and culture must be adopted for a better grwoth.

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