Eating an Elephant

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Eating an Elephant

“A goal without a date is just a dream.” Milton Erickson

A few weeks ago I caught up with a very successful businessman and dear friend when by chance we happened to be in transit through the same city on the same day. He started his global empire on his own about 15 years ago. His business is dynamic, a global leader and very large. It employs thousands of people across 4 continents and is leading his industry in innovation, delivery and customer service.

I knew this man 15 years ago when he was talking about the dream of starting this venture. At the time he told me of his plans and goals. Jokingly I told him I hoped it would not become a white elephant. The origin of the phrase white elephant apparently dates back to the 17th century in Asia. If you owned an albino elephant it was not very useful and needed to be fed special food. The white elephant was also considered to have some spiritual qualities so if you owned one, it was essential that you made it available for people to visit and pray to. Basically it cost a fortune to keep, took up all of your time and was otherwise useless. When I laughed with my friend about his business venture 15 years ago, I was actually saying to him that it sounded like more trouble than it was worth, hence the white elephant comment.

My white elephant comment did not fall on deaf ears. He asked me at the time, “do you know how to eat an elephant?” I must have squirmed as I had this gross visual of chewing some tough indigestible BBQ. He said to me, “one bite at a time.” I’m pretty sure we both laughed at this point about how gross that would be, but, the symbolism of this discussion on reflection is not a joke at all.

My friend knew his project was elephant sized. He also knew that he was taking on something that most people would think was a burden, like a white elephant. He also knew that to tackle all of his huge ideas, he needed to break the steps down to reach his goals into the smallest steps possible to ensure he could see progress and have others work successfully with him, like eating an elephant one bite at a time. This is exactly what he did.

For every big elephant sized idea, my friend decided on the outcome, strategy and every step needed. He celebrated the small stuff and found his big lofty dreams floated toward him without him even realising some times how incredibly well things were coming together. He simplified and multiplied. When small steps did not work, course correction was relatively easy. Rework minimised by a small step approach and measurement. He also celebrates tackling something that others thought would be more trouble than it was worth.

Could this approach be the missing link in so many “one day” dreams that so many people have? First the ability to form your own perception and break free of the invisible limitation posed by the perceptions of others. Secondly, the strategy and tiny step by step planning with measurements that are crucial to the achievement of any goal. This is easy to do and easy not to do. I’ve never seen more compelling evidence of just how this process can transform lives as I have in the case of my friend.


Madelaine Cohen Author

Lipstick Learning is an initiative of Sydney based business leader, Certified NLP Trainer (ABNLP), entrepreneur and Master NLP Practitioner Madelaine Cohen. Sharing information and joining forces with people who choose to lead. Madelaine has more than two decades of inspiration from her businesses in consumer products, sports marketing, executive coaching and healthcare. She takes a leading role in mentoring executives and training business leadership in large and small enterprises. Why? Inspire people to lead and together we can create lifetimes of health and happiness. To find out how you can lead with even more authenticity and ease, contact Madelaine through Lipstick Learning.