On Elephants and Riders

This week’s learning draws inspiration from ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath.

Jonathan Haidt developed a very interesting way of describing the relationship between our emotional and rational sides.

He describe the emotional side as the elephant and rational side as the rider.

Perched atop the elephant, the rider seems to have control. However, his situation is very precarious because IF they disagree, there is only one winner. And you will recognize this if you have ever over eaten, called up an ex at midnight, skipped the gym, procrastinated, said something you regretted, abandoned piano lessons and so on. :)

The weakness of the elephant is evident. It is lazy and goes for short term pay off – eg: ice cream vs being thin. When change fails, it is generally because of the elephant.
However, the elephant is also the reason for love, compassion and sympathy – it’s the elephant that gets things done as it has the energy and drive.

Our rider, while responsible for logic, tends to over analyze and over think things and can brainstorm about ideas for hours without really doing anything!

It is only when we understand the nature of our elephants and riders can we truly understand how to bring about change – both in ourselves and in our organizations. For real change, we will need to appeal to both because we need both the rider’s direction and planning as well as the elephant’s energy.

I found the elephant and rider analogy VERY powerful. I find myself applying this to all the goals and tasks I set for myself. The applications for this are endless – appealing to both the elephant and the rider matters in our daily conversations, important presentations, any change effort and probably most importantly, in understanding and managing ourselves.

Here’s to appealing to both our elephant and rider this week!