We are often asked “How, exactly, do you work with organizations?” Sometimes I tell people that when I do my best work, I rent camels.

About 3,000 years ago a wealthy man died and left his three sons an inheritance of seventeen camels. The eldest son, the favorite son, was to receive one-half of the camels, the middle son one-third, and the youngest son one-ninth of the camels.

Now the sons all liked each other very much, but each believed that he was entitled to no less than his fair share, and was certain that none of his brothers deserved any more than his fair share. And so a disagreement soon arose. The reason, you see – seventeen is not easily divisible by two, three, or nine.

So the brothers sought out the wisest man in village for council. The wise man thought about the difficulty for some time and finally decreed, “I have no solution for your problem, but I will give you my camel”. This made the brothers very happy. After all, they got another camel for free. This additional camel also helped the math to be much easier, and the brothers set about their now simplified task.

The first brother took one-half of the eighteen camels or nine camels.

The second brother took his one-third, six camels.

The youngest brother then received his one-ninth, two camels.

Then the brothers made a discovery: 9 + 6 + 2 = 17 … now they had an extra camel left over. But the brothers were so pleased with the solution that they had come up with that they made a gift of the eighteenth camel to the wise man.

Through our work we have seen that often we become so driven by what we want–our “fair share”–that we lose track of what we need–an equitable solution to dividing the inheritance. By providing an eighteenth camel, we allow our clients to see that many times they already have the resources required to make what they need and once they make what is needed it is much easier to get what they want.