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Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Entrepreneurs make great coaching clients. They have a wealth of ideas that are just waiting to be hatched. Their eyes light up as they explain a new product/service and how it could be used. We float from one idea to the next exploring a slew of topics, ideas, products and services. Their mood goes from excitement to overwhelm as the ideas pour out of their mouth. How does it all fit together? How will they proceed? How can they prioritize and focus their time and not get lost in the minutia?

Ideas with numerous pieces can be overwhelming. As you try to get a grasp of the whole picture, you find that you are juggling thoughts and ideas that are exciting, but seem to make no sense. It’s like having five hundred puzzle pieces in front of you and wondering if they belong to the same puzzle.

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You may have heard the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” and then the answer, “One bite at a time.” But how can this be implemented with the whirlwind of ideas that feel more like a tornado than a warm summer breeze?

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A client was frustrated trying to create her new business. She asked, “How do I define it? What does it look like? Who do I serve?” We explored different sides of her “elephant.” She provided stories of people she had already served, different modalities she offered, various forms of communication, etc. The more we talked, the more puzzle pieces we had out on the table. How did they all fit together? Here is where her confusion and frustration originated. This is where many creative people become paralyzed.

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I pulled out some note cards and we wrote down each of the ideas, words, and images on a card and set them aside. It was a fun way to brainstorm and create.

We came to a natural break and laid out the note cards. Using a puzzle analogy, we had opened the box and spread all of the pieces on the table. We began to group the main ideas, just like you sort out the edge pieces, the sky pieces, etc.

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We categorized, grouped, set aside and pieced together the cards, looking for the view of the entire elephant. Most of the cards fit; some did not – and that was okay. A relief, even, because knowing what didn’t fit meant clarity.

After we had several main categories, I asked about each one, looking for the passion and energy she held for each. We prioritized them. “Which one(s) must happen first?” Having the cards laid out and talking through each made this exercise so much easier. It wasn’t just a bunch of words floating through the air or in her head, but something tangible that we were able to see, touch and manipulate.

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A flow and order surfaced and we came up with action plans and deadlines for each of the steps. Her energy went from frustration to motivation.

It’s easier to know when

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something needs to be done and harder to know what needs to happen first. By laying all of the pieces on the table, even if you can’t see the puzzle’s image, you have a sense for the larger images. As smaller pieces fit together, it’s easier to see what stands out, define the larger pieces and then determine your next right step.


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Coaching Challenge: If you feel overwhelmed with the multitude of ideas and find yourself wondering how it all fits together, get a stack of note cards. Anytime an idea comes to you – whether it makes sense or not – pull out a note card and write it down. Do this for at least a week.

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Then review the cards and categorize them into groups. As categories become clear, prioritize each one and create at least one action step forward. Give yourself deadlines to keep you on task. Then move on to the next. Continue to note any other ideas you have and repeat the same process. This will help you move from ideas to action.

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