The Pink Elephant Project is a life-calling of Shasheen Shah, a native New Yorker with roots in India. The project was inspired by the story of Ganesha – a Hindu deity with the head of an elephant – widely revered as “the remover of obstacles”. The Pink Elephant Project believes that what’s standing in the way of people’s true happiness and fulfillment is directly related to the ability to handle important conversations in a constructive way.
A business consultant gifted in fostering dialogue, Shasheen uses his talents to open up lines of communication among individuals within organizations, resulting in inspired management teams brimming with innovation and creativity. (For more on this work, see www.shasheen.com.) Befitting a person immersed in the world of communication, Shasheen experienced a life-altering epiphany that led him to the creation of the Pink Elephant Project.
In December 2008 while visiting St. Louis, Missouri, I accompanied my friend Erin to an interfaith center she frequents. Following several hours of meditation, during which I was moved to tears by emotions stemming from a recent broken engagement, I walk into the Social Gathering Room with Erin and encounter an “intuitive energy worker”.
“What do you do?” she asks. “What’s your story?”
Automatically falling into “business networking overdrive”, I begin explaining the services I provide, and how under the umbrella of my consulting company, I’ve essentially been handling the Pink Elephant that’s been sitting in boardrooms across America…and how I’ve been jokingly considering renaming Enterprise Management Consulting, Pink Elephant Partners…
“Oh my God!” She exclaims, waving her hands in front of me while bursting into laughter. “You’re the pink Ganesh…you’re the pink Ganesh! (link to Ganesh, or a blurb) You’re the remover of obstacles…that’s who you are!”
At that moment I experienced clarity like I had never experienced clarity before, and my entire life made sense. The pink Ganesh is who I had been all these years for management teams, friends, and family though prior to this conversation, I had never recognized it in that context. Of “Indian decent”, I had known the statue of Ganesh as a symbol of prosperity and good blessings but never as the remover of obstacles! Suddenly, my life had a renewed purpose and there was rejuvenation of a journey that I have always been on…
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by how the same exact set of circumstances can be interpreted in so many ways. Being first generation East Indian American with East Indian parents, the divide in our perceptions was amplified far beyond the usual generation gap. Given any set of circumstances, there were always at least as many interpretations as there were people. Whether in the corporate world, my entrepreneurial adventures, my time as a ski instructor, or in my relationships with friends, family and significant others, there have always been conflicts present…What I have come to realize is that those conflicts were based on nothing more than interpretations. While conflicts can and have served as catalysts for creativity, insight, and understanding, as well as innovation and inspired solutions, they have also crushed individual self-expression, been the source of resignation, caused us to be complacent and simply tolerate our jobs, our family, and the like. While we continue to be FINE and are capable of DEALING, these unresolved issues in the form of uninitiated or unsuccessful conversations build up like rust on our psyche and slowly eat away at our core.
As humans we seek acknowledgement and agreement. However, in the face of the 6+ billion people who are all interpreting the world in their own way, it is simply natural that we disagree. What happens then? A schoolchild raises his hand, gets the answer wrong, and is laughed at. A loving spouse brings up a concern and is met with defensiveness. A boardroom executive offers an idea, with the best intentions, and gets shot down… We learn very quickly to guard ourselves and think twice the next time we consider raising our hand and offering an idea. Personally, when I express myself, I can’t stand rejection – or anything less than excitement and acknowledgement, for that matter.
Someone once told me that we are all directors (and actors) of our own screenplay: We run around in our own world and get upset, frustrated, angry, and hurt when the characters don’t follow the script that has been created for them. The problem is we never gave them the script! Given the 6+ billion directors out in the world, all with their own screenplays while simultaneously performing as characters in other screenplays, it’s no wonder that misunderstanding and conflict exists in this world! It’s only natural and human. Thus the inspiration for the Pink Elephant Project.
As I sat there in front of this woman, my hair standing on end, I was immediately brought to tears with the recognition that all of this had culminated into something so much bigger and infinitely more worthwhile than just the name of my consulting practice.
Knowing that there was still more that needed to be revealed, I returned to the center the next day in hopes of further enlightenment. At the suggestion of the center’s founder, I stared into the eyes of a particular Buddha statue. What happened next was nothing short of divine inspiration. In unremitting fluidity, the knowledge seized my mind as I lucidly recited, out loud:
“Pink Elephant Partners – forget that! It’s the Pink Elephant Project…it’s the courage and commitment to communicate! Couples, Husbands, Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, Sons, Loved Ones, even Management Teams, they all need to take the Pink Elephant Promise…that is any time there is something that has been concerning them, something on their mind, or something that they have been reluctant to express out of fear of the other person’s anticipated response, they agree to invoke the Pink Elephant – placing a totem on the table – as a way of letting others know that there is something on their mind…something that they have been concerned about bringing up, or something that they may not know the right way to say it or bring it up. In the presence of this totem, it is agreed that you give that person the space to say what needs to be said, knowing that it’s important to them and that it’s coming from a place of love. It is not meant to be harmful or hurtful, but rather serves as a catalyst for further discussion.”
As I pondered the symbolism of Ganesh as the remover of obstacles, it was all too perfect! The vision was crystal clear: The Pink Elephant symbol in the home of every family, in the office of every executive, on the desk of every leader, constantly reminding them of the Courage and Commitment to Communicate. The invocation sets the stage and the reiteration of the promise sets context for the conversation. Imagine a world that has the courage and skills to courageously communicate and be fully self-expressed…where creativity, innovation, collaboration, and cooperation are possible; where people feel acknowledged, heard, relevant, known, and part of whole; where solutions can change the world. This world is possible…all from a simple, playful movement called the Pink Elephant Project.