Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 14, 2005

“Be Consistent”

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:23 pm

Today and yesterday I have been dealing with a situation very much like this one:

The Monkey Cage

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs underneath it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After awhile, another monkey makes the attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace that monkey with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and another attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another one of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. the previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.

Everytime the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs or why or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not?

Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how policy begins.

In the original, it said “company policy,” but in this case it’s not company policy. Everyone involved at my company knows we’re doing this particular thing the wrong way — they are just under the impression that we have to do it the same wrong way as it’s been done before, because that’s what are (government agency) client wants. The motto is, “We have decided that consistency is more important than accuracy.” In other words “We have to do it the same wrong way as it was done before.”

Which may be true, for all I know. But it’s still the wrong way.

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