Buddhist parable: The blind guys and the elephant

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To understand how a team of UX should work, I give you the example of a Buddhist parable.

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree too. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” This way we don’t get in arguments. In Jainism, it is explained that truth can be stated in seven different ways. So, you can see how broad our religion is. It teaches us to be tolerant towards others for their viewpoints. This allows us to live in harmony with the people of different thinking. This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions

Blind_monks_examining_an_elephantThe concept behind this parable is that it is necessary to have a clear end point despite having different points of view.

Each of those teams is like one of those blind men. Each does an amazing job at studying and analyzing its trunk or leg, but none can see the elephant. The result is a disjointed, expensive collection of partial answers, and a glaring lack of insight.

Because these two teams may not know that the other exists. Or they aren’t encouraged by their organization to communicate. Or they don’t share enough common cultural references and vocabulary to have a reasonable dialogue, even if they wanted to. So synthesis doesn’t happen, the opportunity for game-changing insight is missed, and products and services continue to suck.

But we can create conditions that get those blind men talking together. Consciously exploring and addressing the following four themes—balance, cadence, conversation, and perspective—may help researchers and designers solve the problems all that precious (and expensive) user research uncovers—even when their organizations aren’t on board.