The Undivided Life Blog


How Do You (Actually) Eat an Elephant?

Feb 12, 2024

A Step-by-Step Guide for Consuming the World’s Largest Land Animal and Leading Culture Change in Your Organization

In a recent conversation about culture change at a large organization, someone offered the age-old wisdom that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  While there is some truth in that metaphorical approach, it is also entirely wrought with error and potentially dangerous outcomes.

If you ate an elephant one bite at a time, you wouldn’t be able to finish even the smallest section of the animal before the meat started to rot and become toxic to your digestive system.  If you are going to take the “one bite at a time” mentality, I propose there are additional considerations for successfully completing the task at hand.

Disclaimer: I have never eaten an elephant before. This thought exercise is purely hypothetical, and I’ve also performed zero hours of research into the matter. I’ve also never killed an elephant or even seen a dead one.

Below is my abridged 3-step plan on how I would eat an elephant, which serves as a parallel view into how I approach culture change as well.

Step One – Plan Ahead

The average elephant weighs 12,000 pounds (okay, I did some quick research), and their skin is 1.5 inches thick.  Think of what we will need when it comes to eating this animal.

First, we will need plenty of cold storage for the meat that won’t be consumed on day one. Not only do we need the space, but we will also need an adequate power supply and power backup to protect the meat as we take one bite at a time.

Next, we need heavy-duty equipment for transporting the meat to each of the cold storage units and to assist with the butchering process. I imagine that the sharpest and largest blades I own won’t do much to cut through the outer layers of the animal during cook prep, so we will also need to invest in the right set of carving tools and machinery to assist.

We will also want to have a variety of side dishes and other main courses as we eat the elephant. After all, this elephant will take a few years to consume.  As you map out the process, keep in mind that you won’t be able to dedicate 100% of your time to eating, and even when you are eating, it will not be the elephant at every meal.  

Step Two – Rally the Troops

You are not going to want to eat this elephant alone. I think that is a recipe for isolation, animosity (why am I the only person trying to eat this?), and burnout.

Instead, connect with the people around you by deploying communication tools and exercises that are designed to humanize your relationships and invite the input and perspectives of others. Maybe a friend or coworker knows of a great way to prepare elephant meat, or they offer to bring a complimentary side dish. Who knows what creative solutions and helpful precautions would arise if you were to gain the wisdom of the team around you.

Furthermore, the very process of eating an elephant sounds so daunting. Imagine the celebrations that would ensue at various milestones, especially upon reaching the stated goal. Your team can join you in achieving something that many would think impossible at the start, and no one would ever forget that time they ate an elephant together.

Step Three – Practice Fortitude, Courage, and Patience

This is a huge undertaking, and you are unlikely to be pleased with the early results. I bet that you could have 20 servings of the elephant and struggle to see any visible signs that there is less meat to be consumed. You need to have a long-game mentality to eat an elephant, and that means you should build up your virtue muscles beforehand, especially fortitude, courage, and patience.

If you can stay the course on this elephant-eating plan and never give in to the nay-sayers and the temptations to take the easy route and quit, then you will begin to see how consistency over time makes all the difference. After 12 months, you will start to notice that people around you cannot remember what life was like before you and your team set out to eat the elephant. Outsiders and newcomers will feel the magnetic pull of your team and wish they could join a group with such purpose and deep connection.  The elephant-eating endeavor will attract others who have always wanted to try eating an elephant but never had leaders who encouraged such behavior.

Does this 3-Step Plan Actually Work?

 For eating elephants, I have no idea if this would work.

But I do know this works for organizational culture change. Sure, there are many more details and steps in between, but this abbreviated overview helps to put in context that culture change is unlikely to succeed if we take the one-bite-at-a-time approach.

Do you want to eat an elephant and transform your organization from the inside out?

Contact us to talk about the strategy and culture consulting options available from Undivided Life.



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