🔤 Chesterton fence

The alphabetical ideas continue. This collection is in an ebook too.

Good decision making is made difficult because the past only provides evidence for what's worked, not what will.

The expression, 'we've always done it that way' is often dismissive but more-often-than-not it works. We've done it that way for a reason. A handy story helps us figure out when to study history and when to strike off a new way.

It was philosopher G. K. Chesterton who suggested we 'see the use of it'. He wrote, imagine that one way of doing it is:

"…a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'"

Written in 1929, Chesterton wanted someone to understand a situation before they changed it. To understand why we've always done things that way.

Decades later in a 2016 interview, NBA coach Gregg Popovich talked about a Chesterton fence he studied, the pre-game shootaround. Invented to give players a chance to prepare themselves physically and mentally, Popovich found it unnecessary. He said:

"I just think it was the modus operandi for every organization. It was a habit. It was what everyone did. If you didn't do it, you were recalcitrant or you weren't doing your job."

The shootaround was invented in the 1970s to "burn off nervous energy". As athletes professionalized the need changed but the career risk remained, and so did the shootaround. That is until Popovich ended it. It was a fence that could be torn down. We'll also note that it was someone with more career capital than career risk who was able to tear down this fence and be different.