The blind men and the elephant
“To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” - Charlie Munger
An old Indian fable from 2500 years ago tells the story of six blind men. The blind men are presented before a king. The king asks these men to touch an elephant and tell him what it is. Each of them touches a different part of the elephant. As one of the versions go, “The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.” Our work is the same in the context of solving social problems. The elephant is the “wicked problem” we face in the world. Why is this important? Imagine you are a leader with a social sciences background and you face a problem in the child protection area. What do you do? You have “reference points” from your education and your experience. Using them you think about how to solve them. Your colleague comes from a business background. Her lens is different and so is the solution. The point is as Charlie Munger would say,
“To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”
We need to move away from this one hammer view of the world. So, Where do we start?
His suggestion: “…the models have to come from multiple disciplines—because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”
This is one of the main reason that we focus on bringing together more than one discipline. Right now we have been able to bring together design, social sciences and business. Design provides us tools and methods to build empathy for people and understand what people really want. It provides a rigorous prototyping approach that is the most suitable approach to solve wicked and intractable problems. Social sciences provides the research base, models like attachment theory, behaviour change theories to help us understand how to create change. Approaches like theory of change helps us understand whether the solution is creating the right outcomes. Business provides us with entrepreneurship models like lean startup, theory of the business to develop a perspective, job to be done for naming what is value for customers and frameworks like business model canvas to capture and work with abstract concepts. Business is key in the end to create a sustainable business model that is the need of the hour. We are acutely aware that these are only three blind men and we have to be on the lookout for more blind men. The key to this work is not the disciplines themselves but the ability to work across and together. That is our strength at TACSI and what we bring to our work.