Brian Thueson's picture

Allegory of the Cave

Variation on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”

“Don’t throw effort after foolishness” is a quote from one of my favorite movies.  I try to follow that philosophy in my business practices.

A client related this allegory to me after several weeks of consulting for him and his company.

Three prisoners were confined inside a cave and have known no other existence.  Their basic needs were met by their custodian and they lived their lives in relative peace and happiness, despite their confinement, because that is all they have ever known.  Through an opening in the cave they experienced diffused light, distorted shadows and unclear sounds from a reality they have neither seen nor understood.

Then in a moment of perceived mercy, the custodian released one of the prisoners, for a short time only, to experience the unseen reality.  The custodian’s desire was to enrich the life of the prisoner, even if only momentarily, allowing him to experience new, wondrous, and yet common matters. 

The released prisoner was astonished at the reality that was once merely perceptions.  He began to understand how the sun’s effect on objects created the distorted shadows.  Sounds were crisper and no longer hollow and rounded.  His understanding of reality was forever altered.

Then, in an act perhaps crueler than the original confinement, the custodian returned the prisoner to his dungeon to live out the remainder of his life.  The prisoner was miserable. 

In an effort to console him, his prison mates inquired of his new-found revelations.  The prisoner described to them a world far greater than any of them had imagined.  He elaborated on their deprivations.  He explained to them how their perceptions were merely illusions.  He yearned for release again.

And they were all miserable together.


After sharing this allegory with me, my client thanked me for helping him obtain clarity through the new policies and procedures we had begun to implement.  He hadn’t realized how much time and effort he had been expending on outdated policies, practices and software.  Although he was not confined to the “cave”, he had been spending way too much time there.   He began to define the way he does things by whether he felt like he was in the cave or not.   I therefore appropriately changed his name in my contacts to “Caveman”.


Change sometimes doesn’t come easy and it takes time to implement.  Yet the clarity it brings is worth the cost.  Are you throwing effort after foolishness?  Are you doing things the same way because that’s the way it has always been done?  Do you have a clear vision of how external forces affect your business?


Our team of experienced CFOs can provide a “fresh set of eyes” and new perspectives in helping you implement best practices which affect your bottom-line.


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