We’ve always done it this way!

Often innovative approaches are hampered because we are unable or unwilling to see past “the way we always do things around here.” Consider the story of the elephant and the log:


When an elephant is very young, one of the first things it is taught is not to escape. Its trainer will tie one end of a chain around the baby elephant’s leg and the other end around a heavy log. When the baby elephant tries to escape, the weight of the log prevents it from doing so.  Despite repeated attempts, the baby elephant is unable to escape and soon becomes used to its captivity.

With the passing of time, of course, the elephant grows and becomes a big and strong adult. However, whenever the trainer ties a chain around the elephant’s leg and then ties the other end to anything, including a very light log, the elephant does not even try to escape. The elephant, known for its awesome memory, is still trapped in thoughts of captivity from its youth, despite having the ability to break free and venture into new territory.  The elephant effectively becomes a “prisoner of its thoughts” by creating the walls of its own captivity!

A similar phenomenon frequently occurs in our organizations and within ourselves. Often the “logs” (e.g., fears, negative thoughts from previous workplaces or bosses, old habits and routines, the “rules” of how our industry runs, and the list goes on and on… ) hold us in captivity and prevent us from achieving our highest potential, including—and perhaps especially—our individual and collective potential to innovate. Like elephants, we become “prisoners of our thoughts” and don’t even recognize that the key to our freedom is within, and within reach! So, are you Innovating with Meaning by recognizing and addressing the “way we’ve always done it?” What, in other words, are you doing to ensure that the chains of memory don’t prevent you from achieving your innovation potential?

Blog Co-Authors:

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts ( and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (  They are co-authors of Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).  See also our new “Dr. Meaning” Channel on YouTube:

About the author

A proud Greek-American (of Cretan heritage), Alex Pattakos Ph.D., has been described as a “Modern-Day Greek Philosopher.” Also nicknamed "Dr. Meaning," he is focused on bringing meaning to work, the workplace, and into everyday life.