The 18th Camel

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsThe story is told of a father who left 17 camels as the inheritance for his three sons.

When the father passed away, his sons opened up the will. It stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given one third. The youngest son should be given one ninth of the 17 camels.

The sons were furious. “It isn’t possible to divide 17 in half, or by three, or by nine!” and they started to fight with each other. After the venting of anger and frustration abated, the three sons decided to go to a wise man for assistance.

The wise man listened patiently about the will, then reflected for some time. He left the three sons, returning with a camel of his own, which he added to the group of 17, thereby increasing the total to 18 camels.

He then read the deceased father’s will to the three sons:

Half of 18 equals nine; so he gave the eldest son nine camels.

One third of 18 equals 6; so he gave the middle son six camels.

One ninth of 18 equals two; so he gave the youngest son two camels.

Nine plus six plus two equals 17, so there was one camel left, which the wise man took back home.

So what’s the lesson here? A key aspect of constructive negotiation is to find the “18th Camel”, i.e., the creative solution outside of the once-presumed-finite possibilities. Once a person is able to find the “18th Camel”, possibilities open and issues can more easily be resolved.

The first and perhaps most critical step in reaching a solution is to hold the mindset that there can be a mutually satisfying solution that we need not be limited by our current thinking. While having that mindset doesn’t guarantee a solution, not having it will ensure stagnancy and limit options. The invitation, then, is to open our thinking to promote and allow fresh thinking and new options into the negotiation conversations- and move forward with that constructive mindset.

What are your experiences with creative solutions to conflicts? I welcome your stories and learnings.



About the author

Andrew is Axialent Faculty Network Member. For over 20 years he has worked globally as a consultant, facilitator, coach and problem-solver for businesses and individuals. Andrew’s work improves his clients’ business results and culture, and enhances individual performance and satisfaction. Andrew brings clarity to complex problems. He helps focus leaders at all levels on what matters most and how to effectively act on it. Read more >



One thought on “The 18th Camel

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  1. This story illustrates to me 1) the brothers faced a problem which touched their insecurities rise to fear..which they then allowed to rule over them. 2) emotional flooding occurred( physiological response to to fear,anger..) which greatly limited their abilities to think clearly (the front portion of their brain begins to shut down..). 3) somehow they realized nothing was getting solved and they needed help.4) a clear and objective mind,with emotions in control..has unlimited ability to creativly solve problems 5) it is wise to seek help..from people with eperience and a sense of humor. 6)hopefully.. lesson learned. And passed to others.:) good story.

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