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Naming Elephants Kim Collins, MBA Executive Director Midwest Biomedical Research Foundation “Whether sad, angry, distressed, eager, or playful, elephants are this in a big way.” - Joyce Poole The Fate Of The Elephant Elephant Trivia

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Naming Elephants

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Naming elephants l.jpg

Naming Elephants

Kim Collins, MBA

Executive Director

Midwest Biomedical Research Foundation

Whether sad angry distressed eager or playful elephants are this in a big way joyce poole l.jpg

“Whether sad, angry, distressed, eager, or playful, elephants are this in a big way.” -Joyce Poole

The Fate Of The Elephant

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Elephant Trivia

  • Elephants are massive: African elephants are as much as 25 feet long and stand up to 11 feet tall

  • Elephants are heavy:  African elephants weigh up to 7 tons

  • Elephants are smelly:  They poop as much as 80 pounds a day

  • Elephants are destructive:  Their feet can be 16 inches wide and they stomp on everything in their way

  • Elephants are messy: They can pull 3 gallons of water into their trunks and spray it as far as 15 feet

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Elephant in the Room

  • Undiscussables

    • A taboo subject, not discussed in an open forum

    • Not discussed to “avoid surprise, embarrassment or threat”

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Recognizing an Elephant in the Room

  • Catch others exchanging meaningful glances (and you don’t know why)

  • No response

  • Unexpected response

  • Awkward silences

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The Elephant in the Roomby Terry Kettering

There's an elephant in the room.

It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.

Yet we squeeze by with, "How are you?" and "I'm fine," and a thousand other

forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work.

We talk about everything else, except the elephant in the room.

There's an elephant in the room.

We all know it's there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.

It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very large elephant.

It has hurt us all.

But we don't talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please say his (her) name.

Oh, please say his (her) name again.

Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room.

For if we talk about his (her) death, perhaps we can talk about his (her) life.

Can I say his (her) name to you and not have you look away?

For if I cannot, then you are leaving me....


in a room....

with an elephant.

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  • Remove the elephant.

  • Minimize the cost of living with it.

  • Accept the cost and get on with your life.

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  • However, a choice must be made.

    • “We can try to avoid making choices by doing nothing, but even that is a decision.” Gary Collins

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Steps to Taming the Elephant

  • Identify and name the elephant

  • Bring to the surface the assumptions surrounding the elephant

  • Have constructive dialogue with all levels of the organizations

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Name the elephant

  • Provide an open forum

  • Be explicit

  • Listen to all

  • Encourage active participation

  • Develop an action plan

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  • Statements or rules that explain what a group or individual generally believes in.

  • Developed over time, become invisible or implicit.

  • Created because of a human need for stability.

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  • Constructive dialogue

    • Get the right people in a room

    • Identify the elephant

    • Validate assumptions into “what if” consequences (brainstorming)

    • Reverse the approach (not valid assumptions)

    • Take turns by going around the table

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Saying/Doing Gap

  • Do we really do as we say?

    • Organizations unaware

  • Multiple concurrent realities –

    • People can see the same thing at the same time but tell different stories…

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Gaps (cont.)

  • We see what we expect to see

  • We don’t want the bad news

  • NASA

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Cost of Elephants

  • HUGE! (Elephants eat a lot)

  • Costly (both in $ and time)

  • Can decrease staff morale and motivation

  • Creates division in organizations

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Organization Culture Changes

  • Naming the Elephants of Hubris, Arrogance, and Screamers

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Strategies to Encourage Others to Name Elephants

  • Understand the value of relationships

  • Default to the curious, not the defensive

  • Listen – Be open to new ideas

  • No news is bad news

  • Deal with arrogance

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  • NAVREF Tool

    • Created specifically with the NPCs in mind

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  • For additional information on Naming Elephants


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