What could you do with the 18th Elephant?

by IdeaTransfer on May 22, 2011

This is a story about a successful business founder who wished to turn his business into a legacy for the next generation.  It takes place in ancient India, where the founder established a very successful company leasing elephants for transport, construction, and celebrations.

The growth days of the firm had wound down as the founder became older and less ambitious.  He decided to bring in his three sons and divide the assets among them.  Let their energy and enthusiasm take the business to new levels of success.  Meanwhile he could retire to the forest and study with a guru to learn the meaning of life.

Because his sons had very different natures and different experience, he decided to divide the assets accordingly.  And, to prevent any disputes from arising he determined to make the terms of the legacy irrevocable.  He knew he needed a good lawyer, but instead he chose his brother-in-law who was cheaper and would follow orders.

Soon the documents were completed, and he announced his plan not only to his family but to his customers and to the whole town so that everyone would support his sons and their new legacy.  He explained that he would divide his elephants based on their skills and attitudes.

One half of his elephants would go to his eldest son, one third to his middle son, and one-ninth to his youngest son.  At first everyone seemed to agree that this was both prudent and fair.  But then a buzz began and turned into arguments.

The company owned seventeen elephants.  What was half of seventeen?  What was one third?  One ninth?  Everyone began taking sides and fighting broke out.  The legacy turned into a nightmare that threatened the future of his business, the loyalty of his customers, and the harmony of his family and community.

What could he do?  His decision was irrevocable.  He was bewildered and demoralized.  He fled to his guru, fall to his knees, and beg for a solution.  The guru listened and smiled.  There was no problem, he told the founder.  The guru himself had an elephant.  Just take the elephant back to town and add it to his own to complete the division.  After that, return the elephant to the guru.

The founder was speechless.  Was his guru that simple?  Mad, perhaps? What could this additional elephant accomplish?  But he did as the guru advised, and everyone gathered round the elephants to watch.

With eighteen elephants the oldest son separate nine elephants for his legacy, leaving nine for his brothers to divide.  The second son claimed his third and separated six elephants, leaving three.  The last son took his one-ninth portion—two elephants.

This left only the guru’s elephant, which the founder happily returned to the forest, confident that the business would thrive.


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