on Oct 18, 2006
There is the old saying, “One in the hand beats two in the bush.” Now, I always understood, based on context, what this saying was, erm, saying. The idea is that a thing you have is superior to a bigger and better thing which you must still work to obtain.
If you’re out hunting some sort of game with your bare hands, and you’ve managed to capture one, you should not put that creature down to go chasing after two more. You could easily end up with none.
In this day where few of us hunt game, and those of us that do employ tools that allow you to secure that which you have already captured so that you may pursue additional game, little sayings like this have become little nonsense stories which are used as an abbreviation for a familiar but more wordy idea.
The Rampant Coyote has about the best example of this sort of idea that I’ve ever seen. I won’t short-circuit his anecdote by trying to summarize here, but I will note that I am in a perpetual state of amazement over how often people are willing to hand their companies over to an amateur or imbecile because he has good hair and a nice suit.
D&D players understand this: If you meet someone with a charisma of 18, it means he probably made intelligence his dump stat.
Just because someone came from Harvard does not mean they know what to do with, or even care about, your money. It is a shame just how many employees are made to be miserable because people just refuse to wrap their heads around this fact. I saw quite a bit of financial carnage during the dot-com bust, and a great deal of it came from learned men who were clearly winging it.
Think of it this way: Grab some random guy off the street and ask him to debug and expand on the several dozen PHP scripts that drive your website, and he will tell you he has no idea how to do that. But what if you offered him several million to do the same task? He is most likely not going to mention his lack of qualifications for the job. He is going to take the money and have a go at it. He would be a fool not to. The problems will begin slowly, but by the time you realize you’re really in trouble you will have a broken website, a trashed database, angry customers, and miles of code that nobody understands. Your coder will slink away quietly and months later he might feel a little tingle of guilt when he buys himself a sportscar.
This is very much what happens every day. Leaders are brought in who have only a list of goals and an enthusiasm for the money you’re giving them. Problems will begin slowly, but by the time you realize you’re really in trouble you will have hired a lot of useless people, fired some good ones, alienated your employees, wasted heaps of money, and missed a dozen opportunities. Your leader will slink away quietly and months later he will feel not the slightest bit of guilt when he buys a new yacht.
After all, he went to Harvard.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.