The Blind Men and the Elephant

There’s a very old poem/story about six blind men who travel as a group to “see” what an elephant “looks” like:

  • The first man is led to the elephant’s trunk.  He exclaims; “An elephant is wiggly and thick like a great snake!”
  • The second man is led to the elephant’s ear.  He exclaims; “An elephant is broad, thin and moves like a great fan or enormous leaf of a plant!”
  • The third man is lead to the elephant’s leg.  He exclaims; “An elephant is like a great tree with a thick and mighty trunk.”
  • The other men have similar experiences:  the tail is like a rope, the tusks are like great spears, and the belly/side is like a great stone wall.

What’s the point?  People don’t always see the “big picture”. 

In the case of the six blind men, they couldn’t see the whole elephant because they were literally blind; however, the lesson for those of us in Safety or Risk Management positions may be that we have to be very careful to step back to see the “big picture” when evaluating safety program tools and results.

When I first heard about “How’s My Driving?” programs, I heard from people who were more poorly informed than the blind men from the story.  They hadn’t touched any part of the program personally: they were repeating myths and misconceptions that they picked up from “the grapevine”.

When I encountered people who had  actually worked with Driver Safety Hotlines, I got a different message.  Typically, it was incomplete (like the blind men who had “seen” only a part of the elephant), but as I gathered more information over time, I began to piece together the puzzle parts to “see” more of the “big picture” revealed.

What is the “big picture”?  It takes a while to describe, and you need patience to fully realize how helpful the program can be when it’s used enthusiastically.

The “big picture” is that:

  • Driver Safety Hotlines save lives, reduce costs and are amazingly efficient.
  • They help safety managers get better results from their other programs such as driver training, driver retention, driver selection, and driver profiling.
  • Most people who call in an observation are really trying to help — almost all calls are credible.
  • Competent call centers do an excellent job of screening and validating calls.
  • The program, when implemented properly, does more to HELP drivers than to intimidate or punish them (the goal is fewer tickets and fewer crashes, not more disciplinary action or terminations)
  • The public perception (tested by a national market research firm) shows an overwhelmingly positive response by consumers towards companies that ask for feedback about their driver’s performance.

Have you heard people “knock” Driver Safety Hotlines as ineffectual or a waste of time? 

Perhaps they haven’t seen the whole elephant — a powerful, and yet, gentle creature that helps others to tackle big jobs with ease.


One thought on “The Blind Men and the Elephant

  1. Paul,

    Great information about Driver Safety Hotlines. Your points made me think of another blog article that I read recently. It was by Connie Dieken, author of ‘Talk Less, Say More’ with three tips on “How to Influence the World – One Short AttentionSpan at a Time.”

    Part of the perception problem with most anything, is that people today often jump to judgement without taking the time to learn what “it” is all about. Here’s where Ms. Diekens article comes in. She wrote,

    “Today you’ll leave a voicemail that will be zapped mid-sentence. You’ll send an email that’s unceremoniously dismissed. As you try to make a point, someone will rudely interrupt. You’ll attend a meeting where no one will listen to the presenter. And the guy in the next cubicle will shoot you an email instead of talking to you face-to-face.

    It’s just another day in the 21st century!

    We’re living in a distracted, impatient, attention-deficit world. As the demands on our time and attention explode, a 21st century bad habit has emerged: Chronic impatience. It’s as if we each have a channel-changing remote control embedded in our restless, fidgity brains. If someone takes too long to get to the point? ZAP! If we think something won’t work? ZAP! If we think we don’t have the time? ZAP!”

    So, to your point. We need to be a bit less impatient, and a bit more inquisitive. There’s a lot we don’t know, but if we take the time to slow down, listen and learn we just might “See the Big Picture” you described.

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