Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Six blind Men and the Elephant
Retold from American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

There were six blind men who do not know what the elephant is. So they went to the zoo and tried to lay their hand on the elephant. They thought by little observation, it might satisfy his mind. The first man approached the elephant and touched his broad and sturdy side. At once, the First began to bawl: "God bless me! but the Elephant is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk , cried, "Ho! This is so very round, smooth and sharp. To me this is mighty clear. I wonder of an elephant is very like a spear.”

The Third approached the animal and all of a sudden took the squirming trunk within his hands. Thus boldly up and spoke: "I see," he shouted, "the elephant is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand and felt about the knee. "What most this wondrous beast is like a mighty plain," he said; "This clear enough, the elephant is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, said :"E'en the blindest man can tell what this resembles most;

This marvel of an elephant is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope, than, seizing on the swinging tail. That fell within his scope, "I see," he remarked, "the elephant is very like a rope!"

After all, these men disputed loud and long, each in his opinion, exceeding stiff and strong. Though each was partly in the right; however, all were in the wrong!

Moral: First, in designing a system for clients, it is not sufficient to assume based on what we see. Don’t pretend that our perception is always right. Open our ear to hear others’ perspectives. Secondly, sometimes it is easy for us to close our minds and fill in the blanks with sweeping generalizations. It is a good warning about how out sensory perceptions can lead to misinterpretations. To design a perfect system, having a sharp intuition is one of the key aptitudes that should be mastered by a system analyst while analyzing a particular problem.

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.