The 18th Camel; The Mindset for Creative Conflict Resolution

The 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.