Chasing the Tail

Copyright Paul Grimsey, used with permission

Copyright Paul Grimsey, used with permission

To get a feel for the difference between intellectual understanding and insightful, imagine a dog that’s constantly chasing his tail. Now let’s imagine that the dog hires you and me as consultants. We ask the dog what he needs, and he says something like this:

“Here’s what I need: First, I need more speed, because the thing I’m chasing is very fast. It always seems to be able to outrun me. Second, I need more agility, because this thing is also very nimble. Even when I creep up on it, it manages to slip away before I can catch it. Third, I need better strategy, because no matter what I do, it always seems one step ahead of me. It’s almost as if it knows what I’m thinking. Finally, I need more time. I’m already working 12-hout days on this, and it just doesn’t seem to be enough. So that’s what I need: more speed, more agility, better strategy and more.”

You and I both know that all the dog really needs is to realize that it’s his own tail he’s been chasing. But if we tell him that, there are two ways the dog might respond. If he insightfully understands what we tell him, and really “gets it”, then he will visibly relax, sigh and maybe chuckle.

On the other hand, if the dog has an intellectual understanding, but doesn’t have an insight, he might say something like this:

“Right. So you’re telling me it’s my tail. Got it. So I need to remember not to chase it, right? OK. So how do I not chase my tail? Can you just take me through the process?”

If the dog says this, we know that he hasn’t really understood.

-Jamie Smart, Little Book of Clarity

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