Throw Out Da Bums!

The road to best practice seems twisty, bumpy, and fog-shrouded. The most frequently overheard phrase throughout my career? "We tried that once and it didn't work."

Once? You tried it once? Then concluded that it never would work?

Well, it wasn't just them saying this, I've said it myself.

What happened to "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again?"

Not in the modern corporation, thank yew. Not in my backyard, either. There, the phrase is , "if at first you don't succeed, you've failed." Utterly. Supported by, "We tried that once and it didn't work."

We live in a society poised to throw some bum out on his ... bum. Not terribly generous when money, time, or public reputation gets involved. Fail for me once and you're outta here!

What sort of practices get reinforced under this regime? Nothing bold or innovative (aka, likely to fail.) Whatever can keep its head furthest down, shadow most secret, and profile thinnest.

How wise are our 'throw out da bum' choices? How much difference does it make what we choose? (I know, I know, it's supposed to matter a lot who we vote off the island, and who gets to stay. Does it, really?)

The first eXtreme programming project utterly failed. The sponsor threw out da bums! Not even I want to read my first few hundred essays. I cringe when someone requests one of my earlier songs. Looking back (and then projecting forward), I can't see a single situation, other than that time when I decided to jump out of that tree onto a steep slope and cracked a metatarsal bone where, "We tried that once and it didn't work" actually worked. What worked, or seems to have worked so far, involved a lot of "We kept trying, even though it didn't work at first." Some stubborn someone wasting time, money, and reputation on what they (and perhaps no other at first) were convinced held some potential merit, until it did. Best born from one hell of a lot worse.

But none of this might really matter. Maybe change itself catalyzes improvements, like the long ago-discovered Hawthorne Effect. Maybe (cringe) we have no influence on outcome at all.

Interesting piece about the rationality of voters in the current Wilson Quarterly. Maybe these findings are appropriate metaphors for how we choose our methods, maybe not. What if they are?

"It’s not only in the United States that the ­Depression-­era tendency to “throw the bums out” looks like something less than a rational policy judgment. In the United States, voters replaced Republicans with Democrats in 1932 and the economy improved. In Britain and Australia, voters replaced Labor governments with conservatives and the economy im­proved. In Sweden, voters replaced Conservatives with Liberals, then with Social Democrats, and the economy improved. In the Canadian agricultural province of Saskatchewan, voters replaced Conservatives with Socialists and the economy improved. In the adjacent agricultural province of Alberta, voters replaced a socialist party with a right-leaning party created from scratch by a charismatic radio preacher peddling a flighty ­share-­the-­wealth scheme, and the economy improved. In Weimar Germany, where economic distress was deeper and ­longer ­lasting, voters rejected all of the mainstream parties, the Nazis seized power, and the economy improved. In every case, the party that happened to be in power when the Depression eased went on to dominate politics for a decade or more thereafter. It seems far-fetched to imagine that all these contradictory shifts represented ­well-­considered ideological conversions. A more parsimonious interpretation is that voters ­simply—­and ­simple-­mindedly—­rewarded whoever happened to be in power when things got ­better."

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