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Change Agents and Chesterton's Fence


"We've always done it that way."
"That's a dumb reason to keep doing it," I said.

I felt proud of myself for saying it, thinking myself a change agent. Thinking I'd proven a great point. I felt smart.


It was stupid.


First, nobody likes feeling dumb. Seriously, when was the last time you changed someone's mind after making them feel like an idiot. You didn't change their mind. You just told them you're a jerk and they don't like being around you. They're not going to listen to anything you say. You just took two giant steps backward on the Good Relationship Ramp.


Second, Chesterton's Fence. It's the counterpoint to the "just because you've done it that way..." argument. Chesterton's Fence basically states, "Don't take down a fence if you don't know why it was put there in the first place."


You never know. You might end up with a herd of cattle in your front yard.


Take the hypothetical scenario: you've come into an inheritance and you buy a big piece of property for you dream house. You scout out a great location. A nice field. Only problem, it's got a fence running through the middle of it. The fence looks old. Been there awhile. You tear it down and build your nice house.


The next season, you wake up one morning and there's a sea of cattle trundling through your yard. Tearing up your fancy landscaping, tipping over lawn furniture, shitting everywhere.


Turns out, a family of ranchers has had long-standing agreements with everybody in town to drive their cattle across their properties. Been like that for generations. Never had a problem before, on account of that old fence you tore down.


The moral of the story is: you're allowed to say "Just because you've always done it this way..." if you know WHY they're doing it that way. What's the optimal outcome? What's good? What's bad?


You may come to the same conclusion and realize, "Hey, this fence is right where it needs to be."


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