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The Rhinoceros and the Unicorn

THE RHINOCEROS AND THE UNICORN - an excerpt from The Change Agent's Cookbook

Did you ever wonder where unicorns come from?

No one has ever seen one, because they only exist as an idea or a myth. So, where did the myth come from?

Imagine a time before photography, videography, TV, film, Instagram, all of it… a time when information was passed mouth to ear and walked on foot.

In 400 B.C.E., the historian Ctesias wrote about the one-horned creature for the first time in Greek literature. He was probably referring to the Indian rhinoceros, but readers imagined unicorns.

People hear about a rhinoceros and they imagine a unicorn.

That’s the short of it.

Author and essayist, Adam Gopnik, uses the story of the rhinoceros and the unicorn to explain the difference between modern liberalism (a rhinoceros) and other political philosophies (libertarianism, communism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc.) which he likens to unicorns.

Unicorns are ideal. They have a sort of mythic perfection. We love to think about unicorns. We like to believe in unicorns.

On the other hand, a rhinoceros is an awkward thing. It’s basically a pig with a horn on its head. It’s funny to look at and is politely ignored by proponents of Intelligent Design.

The rhinoceros is a compromise. The rhinoceros is also a perfectly successful animal.

We like our ideals ideal. We like our goals and objectives that way too. We want to build our businesses to some ideal template, some golden form of a business.

Often one hears talk of the leader of successful challenger in a category spoken of in unicorn-like terms.

“Why aren’t we more like Netflix? Google? Apple? Wieden? Droga? RGA? BFG? CPB? DDB? etc.…?”

Tech disrupters with billion dollar-plus valuations are even known as “unicorns.”

They are not. They are rhinoceroses.

Everything successful is an evolved compromise. So, instead of trying to force people into inhuman ideals, why don’t we try to build our organizations from splendid compromises. Why don’t we use the parts well, respecting each one as a successful animal?

Yes, the result may be funny to look at, a bit awkward and ungainly, but it will also be real and more likely successful. And it will be human too.

Why don’t we try to build rhinoceroses rather than unicorns?