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In context it is used:

The probability that a startup will make it big is not simply a constant fraction of the probability that they will succeed at all. If it were, you could fund everyone who seemed likely to succeed at all, and you'd get that fraction of big hits. Unfortunately picking winners is harder than that. You have to ignore the elephant in front of you, the likelihood they'll succeed, and focus instead on the separate and almost invisibly intangible question of whether they'll succeed really big.

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closed as general reference by MετάEd, Cameron, Matt E. Эллен, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Mitch Oct 10 '12 at 14:47

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This question can be improved by researching your question before posting it, and including the results of the research in the question with an explanation of why what you found was inadequate. That's basic site etiquette. –  MετάEd Sep 11 '12 at 14:18
They're using a metaphor. Elephants are big and difficult to ignore. –  Matt E. Эллен Sep 20 '12 at 9:05

1 Answer 1

An elephant is an animal that is so large that its presence nearby is impossible to ignore, so in English it's often used as a metaphor for something that is obvious and hard to disregard.

The usual phrase it is found in is "ignoring the elephant in the room", meaning a fact that is obvious to everyone involved, but everyone is deliberately avoiding talking about or acknowledging it.

In this case, the author is relying on the metaphor directly, and indirectly relying on its similarity to that more common phrase. They're trying to say that the "the likelihood they'll succeed" is the most obvious thing to consider, but its obviousness is distracting from a more important thing to consider: "whether they'll succeed really big."

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