‘An elephant-path (also known as a desire-path, herd path, cow path and goat track) is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall or traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. Width and erosion severity can be indicators of how much traffic a path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, have gaps, or are non-existent’. – Wikipedia
Ever seen an elephant-path? Or are you an elephant-path maker? I am; ‘why stay on the path if there is a more direct way to go somewhere!’ In my current neighbourhood I don’t see them a lot, but while living in Addis Abeba and Kampala my daily routes were often elephant-paths. I love their pecularity and their logic.
Creating elephant-paths is natural behaviour. We choose intuitively the most logical and direct way towards a goal. In organisations it is often seen as cutting corners if procedures are not followed. But that really is ashame since it is a solid way to create change in a relatively fast way. If you, as the company leader, will create freedom for employees to follow this natural intuition and enable them to create elephant paths, the outcomes could be very efficient. Let’s look into how it can work for your organisation.
- More and more organisation define a clear WHY for their organisation. If you have done this for yours it is possible to loossen the more traditional top down structure. This will leave room for a more intuitive ways of working, New routes will develop.
- In nature the elephant is often the first one to make a new path. But only if others follow it truly becomes a new route. Same goes for organisations. In your organisation it is not just one person who will make a new route. But you do need an elephant to get it all started. You can be this yourself but also other (informal) leaders within your organisation. Keep in mind; the elephant will only be followed if the goal is clear and shared.
- Paths become clear when more use it because this means that the users share the same goal and have concluded that this is the most efficient way to get there. Keep your eyes open and observe if there are elephant-paths being made. Try to find out why this is the case and facilitate them to become the main route where possible. Or guide them to a more suitable route if needed.
- Facilitating elephant-paths to become new routes asks for leaders to create an environment of trust. Also leaders have to take it upon themselves to resolve obstacles. You will discover that when the goal / WHY is clear together people will bring the overall work to a higher level. Simple reason; that is what people like doing!
- If your organisation is going through major changes alowing elephant-paths to be created may give more certainty in uncertain times.
- Elephant-paths mostly occur to improve communication and quality, to make services more effective or for simplifying processes. Knowing this is handy when changes need to be made from the top to ensure duration of the organisation.
Indicators of needed change
- The amount of elephant-paths already in your organsation can be an indicator that the rules in place are too strict and that management is focusing too much on controling instead of facilitating. People start ignoring rules if they are no longer efficient. Instead of making peoply align to the current rules or create extra rules it is wise to adjust to the elephant-paths instead and incorporate them officialy in new procedures.
- A developing map of elephant-paths can guide towards change needed. In a way leaders can harvest what has been sown. Bottom-up instead of top-down and develop new routes.
In brief elephant-paths are the result of peoples creativity and interest in making it better. So cherish your elephant-paths and their creators. Make it part of your general leadership to facilitate elephant-paths being created. Contact me if you would like to exchange ideas or when you are in need of an “elephant leader” to start the process.
Just to enjoy
The most literally example of an elephant-path is captured in this video of a hotel lobby. Perhaps the only hotel in the world where you need to make way for passing elephants when checking in. During the month of November, a small herd walks through reception on their way to a wild mango tree.