Pooping Elephants, Mowing Weeds: What Business Gurus Failed to Tell You
By David George Moore
I am grateful to Scot McKnight for giving me the opportunity to offer a heads up on my new ebook, Pooping Elephants, Mowing Weeds: What Business Gurus Failed to Tell You.
My short (7500 words) ebook seeks to address issues that don’t typically get addressed by popular business books. Among other things, the following are included:
The need to deal with the roots of an issue, not its symptoms.
How many business gurus tell us what to do and how to do it, but never mention who we should be and why we should go in a certain direction.
Many business writers, most really, traffic in the “if you can, then you must” mode. Our capability to achieve some goal is deemed only by whether it is possible. Whether something is going to be profitable for the overall well-being of the employers is rarely taken into consideration.
I underscore that skills and information alone do not magically spur change in individuals or companies.
Encouragement is given to show that thoughtful business people are the most practical.
Character in “small” endeavors truly matters.
Resumes are not adequate in describing intangibles like perseverance and creativity.
The following introduction unpacks the reason for the title:
We desperately need business books which seek to address the big and sometimes messy issues of life. Too many seem to be satisfied with gimmicks, simplistic strategies, and ready-made techniques. I use the following two metaphors to depict this particular phenomenon. Ironically, both of them deal with dinner parties. I begin with pooping elephants.
Philosopher Peter Kreeft insightfully likens the big issues of life to elephants. Diversions are like mice. We can be diverted from the important issues if we allow enough mice to cover our metaphorical elephant. As a result, the mice can cause us to forget that the elephant even exists. I like his illustration very much and have adapted it for my own purposes.
Imagine that you are invited to a dinner party. The house is beautiful, the dinner table is elegantly set, and the meal is served in a way befitting royalty. One thing is first amusing, but quickly becomes troubling. There is an elephant right next to where your lovely meal is spread. Your initial impression is that the behemoth must have some kind of symbolic or hidden meaning, but no one acknowledges the pachyderm’s presence. In fact, everyone acts like nothing is out of the ordinary.
When you try to make a joke about the absurdity of juxtaposing an elegant meal with a large mammal, no one at the table seems to care. Just when you thought you were sufficiently shocked, you find this horror is about to take on massive proportions.
The elephant starts to poop.
Still, no one dining with you flinches. The conversation continues on without a hitch. One woman raves about the homemade croutons. They really made the salad come alive. Another guest compliments the hosts on how lovely the home looks. “It looks so clean.” The husband responds first, and with thinly veiled pride says they use an exterminator every month. “And they are an organic exterminator,” the wife adds. You want to scream, “Who cares if you have never seen a bug in your house? You have a three-ton elephant doing his business right next to us! Isn’t that a bit more important?!”
The other illustration came to me years ago during a troubling season of addressing a number of church controversies. Again, there is a dinner party. This one is different in that you are inviting the guests to your place. You want to impress everybody. Everything must be just right. You are working hard to make the final preparations. The inside of your home looks great, but a quick survey of the yard yields anxiety. It is in desperate need of mowing. Also, weeds have made their unwelcome presence known throughout your yard. It is late afternoon so you are left with no great option. You will have to mow both the grass and the weeds. The final product does not look too bad…for a few days. Eventually, the weeds come back to their nasty, former forms.
Like this dinner party illustration, there are times when we only have time to address the most glaring issues. To change the metaphor, but make the same point, we know there are times en route to a hospital when medics can only put a tourniquet on a badly bleeding limb. The symptom must be addressed with whatever means available. Surgery will address the root issue, but in the meantime we simply must attend to the symptoms. Unfortunately, too many of us never make surgery a priority. We think “progress” is simply changing the tourniquet.
The following two entries look at the business philosophies of Jim Collins and Stephen Covey. I didn’t pick these two because I find more fault with them than other business writers. I picked them because their popularity easily seduces people to assume they are correct in everything they claim.