One day thru the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should,
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer, the calf is dead;
But still behind he left his trail,
And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way,
And then a wise bell-weather sheep
Sliding into a rut now deep,
Pursued that trail over hill and glade
Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
and uttered words of righteous wrath
Because “twas such a crooked path”
But still they follow-do not laugh-
The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road
where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The village road became a street,
And this, before the men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this
In a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong
Followed this zigzag calf along;
And over his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one poor calf, three centuries dead.
For just such reverence is lent
To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
Poem by Samuel Walter Foss (1895)
We often tackle problems with action planning. Well what are we going to do? What’s the plan? What should we commit to doing in the next 30 days? Who should do what?
Do … do … do …
What about considering what we shouldn’t do? What about considering what we are doing that we should stop doing?
There’s a rather standard OD exercise that I have facilitated with regularity over many years — Stop, Start, Continue. What processes, procedures, tasks, behaviors should we implement? What current ones should we discontinue? What ones are still relevant and useful that we should continue doing?
Invariably, the “stop” list is not as populated as the other two.
Hard to stop.
I blame it on those cows.
But my blame is misdirected. We’re to blame.
It is relatively easy to start doing new things; if we’re committed, we’ll find the time. And starting new things has such promise! And doesn’t it show that we’re creative; innovative; and isn’t taking action often recognized and rewarded independent of whether the activity actually generates results?
And, easier yet, is to continue; it quite clearly is the path of least resistance.
But to stop doing things we’ve always been doing takes making a decision that breaks from the well established modus operandi. It takes a willingness to take responsibility. It means taking a chance of a different sort. Where is that cow? and how will that cow feel about us going a different route? And heaven forbid if that cow is sacred!
So we keep doing what we’ve always done.
For just such reverence is lent to well established precedent.
And now we know: such reverence is cow dung.