At a recent management offsite, I adopted the phrase “Think different, act different” as a rallying cry for the team. I was trying to emphasize the dangers of group think so I reminded them of the story of ten monkeys in the cage. I didn’t just want them to think outside the box but to band together to institutionalize change management.
While having change as a shared goal provides a kind of support group, it doesn’t absolve individual responsibility and accountability. Later that week, I heard a fable which provides a vivid reminder that one person can change a group’s perspective:
A father left seventeen camels to his three sons. He stipulated that his eldest son should get half, the middle son should get a third, and a ninth to his youngest. Because seventeen doesn’t divided evenly, the sons could not think of a way to carry out their father’s wishes and decided to seek help.
The sons approached a wise old woman who, after pondering their problem, asked “what happens if you take my camel?” Of course, the addition of another camel made the solution obvious: the eldest son took nine (1/2), the middle son took six (1/3) and the youngest took two (1/9). Nine and six and two made seventeen. They had one camel left over which they gave back to the wise woman.
What I like about this fable is that the woman didn’t explicitly solve the problem for the sons. She allowed the group to discover the solution and implement it on their own.
This is an excellent reminder for all of us who try to solve problems for others. Don’t just think different, act different.