What is a $10 elephant and why does it need to be tamed?

Often as we travel around the country people ask us what we do and what exactly is “Usability Engineering,” “Business Technology Integration,” “6-dimensional Modeling” or any of the other tools that we use to solve problems. To simplify, Peter started to use the metaphor “We tame $10 elephants.” For those of us not raised in Africa at a time when elephants were still used in the field as construction “workers” this metaphor may require a little more explanation.

graphical element
10 dollar elephant
graphical element

In Africa, where Peter grew up, everyone knew that a really good elephant would cost you (at that time) around $1,000 – but occasionally you would find “a really great deal” and get one for $10. So you jumped on it. In systems — whether building systems, infrastructure systems, or technology systems, or even, for that matter, human-centric systems — the same bargain mentality applies. The problem only emerges when you're out in the field and the elephant begins to demonstrate why it was marked down.

We often hear “But that’s all we could afford!” And our response is: “OK, but did you calculate the real cost of not doing it right the first time?” In other words, how much is this “bargain solution” really going to cost you over its lifetime in rework and remediation. Most of the time, the client is so busy “feeding” and “disciplining” the cheap (demanding, recalcitrant, balky, bad-tempered) elephant and its real world problems — i.e., throwing good money after bad — they have absolutely no time to even think about what it’s really costing them.

An adaptation of Stephen Covey's
Time Management matrix. $10 elephants
tend to hang out in Quadrant 3 and
keep you from entering Quadrant 2.

important vs urgent matrix

Take a step back from your major problems and just think about how many of them are due to trying to work around a poor investment. It's characteristic of the $10 elephant to be loud and demanding — the squeaky wheel, or the problem that demands 80 percent of your time and produces only 20 percent of your good results. Next time someone offers you a $10 elephant, take a deep breath and work out the real cost of owning and maintaining a demanding, recalcitrant, balky, bad-tempered beast.

When we can, we prefer to stop our clients from buying the wrong thing, and we do that principally with due diligence tools such as usability engineering, feasibility studies, impact analyses and multi-dimensional modeling technologies (like 6-Dimensional Modeling) that can run sophisticated what-if simulations. But if you've bought that $10 elephant, we think it should earn its keep — and we can help tame it so it does.

The biggest mistake many of our clients make is to think they’re stuck with this bad bargain, and stuck with the escalating operating costs and poor productivity that go along with it. That’s just not true: any $10 elephant can be tamed, given the right tools and the right approach. Ask us how to tame yours.