We’ve always Dung it this way

Ever have a disaster with a bank, credit card company, or the ‘trustee’ of your retirement account? Ever have the same disaster, for three weeks with the company that was all three? Ever have your credit drop 100 points because of a screw up that you had no control over?

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I just went through this. All my money was in ‘limbo,’ with no ability to write checks, pay bills, and previous checks were bouncing. Nothing formal like a ‘hold,’ or ‘pending xxx.’ I’ve cleared it up by forcing, yes, forcing, a Federal Reserve wire transfer of everything to a commercial bank that at least is up to date, for the previous decade.

All this reminds me of an old parable, offered here below.

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Llama Dung: A cautionary Parable, 24 Feb 2009

It is too easy to stick with old, tried and true.

Frequently, the original rationale is long forgotten, and all you have is “that is the way we do it.” This type of thinking sticks the company, church, school, county or state in a rut so deep that fresh air cannot be breathed. Here is the Parable of the Llama Dung.

Parable of the Llama Dung

We, engineers, are so good at solving problems that we sometimes forget to ask if the problem has been posed correctly; we just solve it. Yet questioning the rationale behind product specifications scan avoid a lot of pointless effort.

Consider the US Army’s llamas. In the early 1940s, so the story goes, the Army wanted a dependable supply of llama dung, as required by Specifications for treating the leather used in airplane seats. Submarine attacks made shipping from South America unreliable, so the Army attempted to establish a herd of llamas in New Jersey. Only after the attempt failed did anyone question the specification. Subsequent research revealed that the US Army had copied a British Army specification dating back to Great Britain’s era of colonial expansion. The original specification applied to saddle leather. Great Britain’s pressing need for the cavalry to patrol its many colonies meant bringing together raw recruits, untrained horses, and new saddles. The leather smell made the horses skittish and unmanageable. Treating the saddle leather with llama dung imparted an odor that calmed the horses. The treatment, therefore, became part of the leather’s specification, which remained unchanged for a century.

So, on your next project, make sure you know the reasoning behind the specs.

If you hear “We’ve always done it that way,” watch out for llama dung.

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ref: Breakpoints, EDN News, (issue unknown), p. 35 by Richard A Quinell, (repeated here by written permission of Mr. Quinell)