Posted by jlubans on May 24, 2018


AN Inquisitive Man was one day met by a friend who cordially hailed him:
"Good morning, my good fellow! And where do you come from?"
"From the Museum of Natural History, where I have just spent three hours.
I saw everything there was to see and examined it carefully.
It was all so astonishing that honestly I am not clever enough to describe the half of it.
Nature is certainly wonderful in her rich variety!
There are more birds and beasts than I ever dreamed of—not to mention the butterflies dragonflies and beetles—some green as emeralds and others as red as coral!
And there were tiny little gnats too—why, really, some of them are smaller than the head of a pin!"
"And of course you saw the elephant? What did you think of him? I'll wager you felt as though you were looking at a mountain!"
"Elephant? Are you quite sure that they have an elephant?"
"Quite sure."
"Well, old man, don't tell anybody—but the fact is that I didn't notice the elephant!"
Now you know
from whence comes the business cliché about the “elephant in the room.”
I doubt that was Krylov’s intent. Instead I would say he is simply showing how even the best of us can miss the obvious.
It is said that a Russian royal (yes like the Brit royals on display this last week!) claimed that each of the “three great fabulists, La Fontaine, Khemnitser, and Dmitrief, bore the name of Ivan”.
For a royal to miss mentioning Russia’s greatest fabulist, Ivan Krylov, is hardly earthshaking and probably, if true, made Krylov laugh.
What else could one expect from an inbred, wooly headed aristocrat?
In any case, the critics say Krylov made up this fable to ridicule a Royal slight.
This is hardly in keeping with Krylov’s unconcern in being a celebrity or someone singled out for honors. More likely, this take is a myopic attempt to explain the real meaning behind the “inquisitive man” seeing gnats but not an elephant.
I suspect that all too often in the workplace we address tiny problems while avoiding what’s eating our lunch, like allowing coffee in the library, vs. the loss of a third or more of our market share to Google!
My example stems from libraries, but it applies to dozens of other businesses. Myopically, we swat at mosquitoes while the dragon plunders the kingdom.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
In solidarity with the millions of writers under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy. If you ask, they will buy it.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018
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