The Elephant in the Mirror

Elephant in the MirrorThe elephant in the room, the man in the mirror – we’re all familiar with these phrases. But, what about the elephant in the mirror? Sometimes, even with the best intentions, we get in our own way.

Not too long ago, in my “Untying the Knot” blog post, I wrote at a high level about how the Design Thinking framework and associated tools can help you navigate the challenges of ambiguous projects or situations – untie difficult knots. However, what happens if you’re in that process and you find yourself too invested, or challenged by or at odds with your team? What if the problem you are facing begins with you?

The elephant in the mirror represents our inability to recognize that we might be playing a part in the obstacles we face. Sometimes we are unable to see our own impact because we are so focused on our work and goals that we lose sight of the holistic objective.

We all find ourselves in this situation from time to time, whether we’re fighting with preconceived notions, fixated on a tiny detail, or just plain being stubborn. But, how can we get ourselves out of this mode and get past the elephant? The answer: Adopt a systems view.

A systems view is a way of thinking that recognizes that you are part of a larger system, helping you to see the interconnections and dependencies of all the components of the knot (or the task) you are trying to “untie.”

Here’s an example: Imagine yourself driving to work on the highway during your morning commute, distracted by your 8:00am presentation. You find yourself practicing your speech in the car, over and over again, glancing down periodically at your notes. You recognize that your need to prepare for this important meeting could potentially impact your driving, so you begin to slow down. Easing on the brake is your signal to drive better so that you can multitask. Now, imagine looking at your car from 20 feet above, where you can see a few of the cars adjacent to you. Now think about 1,000 feet above that. From up there, you can see that your slow and distracted driving is the root cause of a traffic delay. Until you take a step back, it might be hard to recognize that your actions are related to the delay or could possibly even be the cause of the fender bender twenty cars behind you.

Imagine the impact we fail to see in the workplace when we are so focused on our goals and do not take a second to zoom out to see the bigger picture. These moments make up the elephant in the mirror.

Combat the Elephant in the Mirror

Using the Design principles and practices you have seen my team speak about across this blog, like visualization and problem reframing, can help make these abstract and sometimes difficult conversations more constructive and concrete. First, ask yourself:

– What problem am I trying to solve?
– What are some ways the market and my organization contribute to this issue?
– What are some ways my team’s efforts are contributing to this challenge?
– Finally, what are some ways my efforts contribute to this problem?

It important to note that adopting a systems view will not change the boundaries of your organization or system. You will still have to understand and work within your constraints. For example, your budget or resources for 2018 will not magically increase throughout this exercise. However, forcing yourself to look at the topic objectively, from a macro level and then inward, will provide a diverse perspective and expand your opportunities to innovate. In order for us to get out of our way, we must first take a step outside of the box.

Here at Navigate, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with companies and teams to take that first step, as well as to help them see the interconnections and dependencies of the business problems they are trying to address. If you’re starting to see the elephant in the mirror and want to understand how Design Thinking can help you, please reach out to me at [email protected] or 484.383.0606 to learn more.

Annalicia Geeter, Senior Consultant
Elephant in the Mirror






Illustration by Sean Hughes

Change Management Done Right
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