How do you help people to see the “whole thing”?

Countless people have heard the tale of the blind man who holds the elephant's trunk and has every reason to identify it as a snake. The same may be said for the blind man who stands next to the elephant's leg and perceives it to be a tree. The two men arrive at different conclusions because they have different information. Once members of a team observe this dynamic and recognize that they each hold only a part of the elephant, they often resolve their differences quickly.

A few years ago, I witnessed firsthand the awesome power of “seeing the elephant.” The question at hand was, “Why were the responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake such dismal failures?” After all, there are well-documented stories about these problems. During Katrina, ice sat melting in a stadium while people died from dehydration. After-action reports by the US government claim that with respect to the Haiti disaster response, well over 50 percent of the $1 billion spent by the US government alone was wasted. The issue we investigated was, “How did the good intentions of so many people and organizations result in such confusion and ineffectiveness?” It is important to note that responses to such large-scale events involve many governments and levels of governments, along with non-governmental groups like the Red ...

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