Imagine a country where every person is blind from birth. Because no one can see the world, they live using images they create with their sense of touch.

They can’t touch everything and create images for them, however, so they accept the images provided by someone they believe they can trust. As time passes, something no one has ever touched before is introduced to their country: an elephant. Of course, just like any other human civilization that’s established a system for threat assessment, they send their experts, who are also blind, to examine and conceptualize this elephant. It’s an extremely important mission, because other people will mobilize their collective energies depending on the experts’ report. They will get to know the elephant and decide whether it’s something they can benefit from or something that should be avoided. In other words, they will determine whether they’re going to eat the elephant or try to destroy it. They completely trust their blind experts to create their collective image of elephants.

The experts arrive at the scene and carefully take their positions before beginning to investigate the elephant. One expert touches the tail and makes a note that the elephant is like a long cord with a tassel on one end. Another touches the ear and declares that the elephant is flaky and thin in structure, so maybe it could be used as a fan on hot summer days. Another holds the leg and wonders what they can do with this moving, tree-like structure. He believes the elephant will destroy its surroundings. The last expert touches the trunk and is excited by this hose-like creature with its curious qualities.

I think the reason for why we never arrive at a consensus in sciences like psychology and sociology, or even hard sciences such as physics, is that we also live in a land of the blind. Everyone’s opinion about where we should start evaluating the elephant is so concrete in many fields, including leadership, management, and performance management. You can see people arguing about these ideas and debating which of them are the best in every corner of the world. Even though we know it’s extremely rare in the history of humanity, we continue searching for a “single truth.”

“Well,” you might say, “is it even possible to see the whole elephant? Is it our fault that we’re blind?” Of course not, because this blindness, which is basically a lack of awareness, is just a natural part of experiencing humanity. The problem is not that we’re blind—it’s presuming everyone else to be blinder than ourselves. If something doesn’t work out, or if our efforts always fail, it’s not because we didn’t cling hard enough to the part of the elephant we’re holding. Perhaps all we need to do is consider other people’s points of view from time to time? Who knows?

There’s a short anecdote about Nasreddin Hodja where he’s a judge. One day, two plaintiffs stand before him. One of them begins telling his side of the story. Hodja listens and declares the man to be right. The other man then tells his story, and Hodja also declares him to be right. His wife overhears this and can’t help but ask, “What kind of judgment is this? You say both men are right, but how can that be possible?” Hodja then replies, “Oh woman, you are also right.”

The holistic integral approach used in social sciences, psychology, ecology, institution management, and personal development claims that no one has the capacity to be 100% wrong, just as Nasreddin Hodja did. This movement was pioneered by philosophers and academicians like Ken Wilber, Don Beck, and Chris Cowan. The main concept is to have a holistic approach to management and other social sciences rather than our current systems, which try to split things into pieces. In other words, we don’t say to others, “The elephant is nothing like that! Everyone is blind but me!” Instead, the integral approach soothingly says, “Actually, we’re all blind, and what we see is limited by the intensity of our focus. Could we get closer to the whole picture if we put all of our ideas together?”

This would be the wrong place to get into the technical details of this movement. It suffices to say, however, that this movement provides very effective results in ecology, law, administrative sciences, and psychology by showing how conflicting ideas and parameters can be joined together to create a more comprehensive idea. We can use this technique just as successfully in our daily lives as we can in corporate practice. Here are four rules:

  • You will never see the whole picture, whether it be in your personal or professional life.
  • The part of the picture you cannot see will always get you into trouble whenever you attempt to move forward and achieve results.
  • Trying to see the other parts of the picture will serve you better than trying to improve yourself in just the small part you already see. It’s just like Nasreddin Hodja searching for his keys in the light even though he lost them in the dark. You should not only try to better yourself in your own area but also have the courage to enter the dark room at some point.
  • You will induce a certain transformation and improvement in the part you focus your attention on. As the saying goes, “Keep your shop, and your shop will keep you.”

If we can remember these four rules, we might one day realize that the thing we’re touching is not the elephant but just a part of it. Touching just this part exclusively is sometimes more damaging than not touching it at all, and being a “learner” in life is much more effective than being a “knower.”