How To Feed An Elephant

Written by David Pullan

How To Feed An Elephant

You’re an intelligent person, right? Maybe you even think that some of your clients and colleagues are. 


You’re both rational, you listen to logic, you see data as an excellent means of proving and predicting a judicious course of action.


What if I was to tell you that this is only half of the story?


According to Jonathan Haidt from NYU your logical brain is merely a part of your decision making neurology. The other part is your feeling and emotion, and that part is like a six tonne hungry elephant being driven by a logical mahout along a path of constant change. 


Many times it goes well and elephant and driver work in harmony. But sometimes it goes wrong and…well you can imagine who wins between a mere mortal and a marauding mammoth in need of lunch. 


So how do you feed the elephant in order to keep it happy and on track?


It turns out that stories are what our pachyderm mates are after, and if you want to keep them happy you need to feed them tales. In fact if you want rider and elephant to be happy you need a ratio of about 3:1 between data/fact and story.


The reason for this is that stories create feeling through context, cause and effect, and meaning. Stories are also by their very nature memorable and will be recalled much more readily than mere fact presented as a list.


And never forget this. If you don’t tell the story then the elephant will seek meaning and make its own story up based on the facts it hears. In this situation there is no guarantee that the elephant’s self generated story will be the one you want it to hear.


McKechnie and I have recently been involved in a lot of change management work and one of the central themes that has emerged is the need to tell stories: stories that inspire, stories that motivate, stories of what is good, what is bad, what we’re moving from and what the future holds.


Of course the process, the facts and the logic of change is vital, but don’t underestimate the power of story telling as you lead that change.


If you forget to feed the elephant then at best there’s a chance it will just sit down and refuse to move. At worst it will storm off and wreak havoc that will take you both time and money to repair.





photo credit: <a href="">DSC_2299</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'