The Three Blind Managers and the Elephant

Cover Arts by UPANOG
Cover Arts by UPANOG

The discussion on subjects such as risk often turns into something esoteric. When that happens, as Risk Managers, we should appreciate the brilliance of some people’s premises, suppositions, commentaries, and conclusions, for they can add value and substance to what we already know. Pulling their takes together might just be what everyone needed to appreciate the whole.

There is an old tale about the three blind men who encountered an elephant for the first time and attempted to learn about it by touch alone. Well, now, let us change the story to the three blind project managers who encountered risk for the first time. Imagine their experiences as they attempted to learn about it.

The story about the three blind project managers is like that of Jain’s, The Blind Men and the Elephant. Therefore, the parable is relevant to what we are discussing here.

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Original Drawing by UPANOG.copyright2015/[email protected]

“One man felt a leg and said the elephant is like a pillar. The one who got hold of the tail said the elephant is like a rope. The one who felt the trunk said the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear said the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly said the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.”

The understanding of each man is distinctive because each traces a different part of the elephant. This ancient story teaches us something important about running our businesses and projects and addressing the associated risks. We see many situations differently from the next person. It is an excellent illustration of the relativity of risk.

The range of understanding runs a distance between true and false but never in absolute terms. In effect, what each one of us experiences might be a subjective truth and not an objective reality. The scenario creates limitations to the accuracy of one’s decision.

We can say that a blind person’s feel or a seeing person’s perspective depends on which side of the elephant they are touching or from which fence they are sitting on, respectively. With that in mind, a risk can be a threat or an opportunity. It is relative from a point of view. Same event, different take. Your business sees a threat and your competitor sees an opportunity. It is as simple as that.

Each individual player within the risk universe will see things a bit differently compared to the next person, with some people interpreting things in exactly the opposite fashion. In each case, the person can see only one set of attributes. 

Anyone who contemplate risk should consider that threats also bring with it opportunities and opportunities can also brings threats. These are underlining characteristics that all risk practitioners have to remind themselves always. Have you ever heard the saying, “every cloud has a silver lining?” Ring a bell?

Now, if we could take an even more macroscopic view of the risk universe as an independent observer, we would be able to see risk from more than one perspective and gain a level of understanding that most of us never thought possible before – that risk is both a threat and an opportunity (Frago, R.2030.PMSolutionPro.Risk Relativity).”

As Covey’s HABIT 5 famously declared, “SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD.” Communicate effectively at all levels of the organization. Communication is the most crucial life skill. You spend years learning how to read, write, and speak. But what about listening?” (Covey’s 7 Habits, 2019). In my experience, one of the more problematic habits to master. We all must deliver our opinion to the table from the get-go. It’s the gravitational pull we must be aware of to succeed. I, myself, failed countless times. 

No alt text provided for this image Free Picture by Yan Krukau

Even though my late father reminded me many times that there’s a reason why people have two ears and one mouth, my struggle goes on. The moral duty attributed to the golden ratio between the ears and the mouth (2:1) is obvious, but many of us use our mouths more than our ears. 

Violating this golden rule is one primary reason one ends up in frequent trouble and why there’s much hurt in the world. Easily one of the top ten reasons why good relationships die and projects fail.

You and I may have known this all along, but it is still quite revealing. Each of us must listen actively to understand others’ perspectives. 

Don’t hold onto your opinion just because it’s your opinion. Keep an open mind. Mull about it if you must, to be fair. Revise your previous programming a little, and don’t presume that everything you see is true.” The correct avenue toward continuous education by identifying, recognizing, and appreciating the differences in ideas through reflexive thought processes.

The best way to understand the details is to zoom out. You have to rise above man’s field of vision. To understand the whole, one has to zoom in. You’ve to close in and immerse yourself to touch it.

It seems paradoxical, but zooming out lets us see how everything interconnects and relates. Such a move is especially true for those at the front end who deal with the details so much that they lose appreciation—on the other hand, Zooming in talks about walking the path, inspecting, and feeling the hurdles on the ground. 

The strategy will help bridge that pervasive gap typically brought about by talking and jumping to conclusions without digesting the whole data set first. I tell you, it can give back the sights of the three blind project managers!

Source: Frago, R. (2015). Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective.ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7.Canada

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  1. Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective.ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7.Canada
  2. Plan to Schedule, Schedule to Plan.ISBN 978-0-9947608-2-1.Canada
  3. How to Create a Good Quality P50 Risk-based Baseline Schedule.ISBN 978-0-9947608-1-4.Canada
  4. Schedule Quantitative Risk Analysis (Traditional Method).ISBN 978-0-9947608-3-8.Canada
  5. RISK, What are you? The Risk Manager’s Poem: Children’s Book for all Professionals.ISBN 978-0-9947608-4-5 (Canada)


Grace, The Guardian Angel.ISBN 978-0-9947608-5-2.Canada

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