I tend to use the elephant analogy a lot. I’ve used it a number of times in the last few weeks. I used it when I was at the Unycom conference in Graz and just used it again in conversations with John Dumay, our academic collaborator from Australia (who happens to also be a big Red Sox fan and has been at Games 4, 5, and 6). And I just used it again on a career panel for Columbia grad students.

The analogy refers to the poem by John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind…

On the career talk, some of the other panelists were recommending that the students develop deep technical expertise. It’s good advice as far as it goes. But it’s also dangerous advice. Because technicians who can’t see the big picture can easily become the blind men. And it happens to everyone at some time.

Because most people and most organizations have specific areas of expertise and are focused on a specific point of view. Specific areas of expertise are necessary for the success of organizations. But if you don’t can’t talk about how the pieces relate to the overall goals of the organization, you’re not going to add nearly as much value within your team, your organization and your external ecosystem. Unfortunately, very few are prepared to see the whole picture, the whole elephant if you will.

This is such an acute problem because of the shift to the intangible knowledge economy. The core assets and operations of a company are literally invisible and neither measured nor managed in a disciplined way. It’s reached the point where 80% of the corporate value of the average business in the U.S. is intangible.

For me, intangible capital is the tool through which we construct a shared understanding of all of the elements of an organization and teasing out a picture of the whole elephant, how it all works together as an ecosystem—human, relationship, structural and strategic capital—and most importantly, how the ecosystem creates value for both stakeholders and shareholders.

Use your expertise but don’t forget to open your eyes to the big picture. Work to understand how what you do fits into the bigger picture and develop a shared picture with your colleagues.

Our open source ICounts visualization tools are a great place to start.

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