Saturday, 31 July 2010
Stick 'Em With Windmills
The humourist Scott Adams(*) of Dilbert fame illustrated that people tend to see the solution to any problem in terms of their favourite technique, the one they have a special investment in. When Dilbert's office hired a porcupine as a consultant it would unhestitatingly recommend:
"We must stick them with quills! It's the only way!"
The observation is sharp. Ask a school teacher what to do and it will invariably work its way back upstream to how children ought to be educated. A priest will tell you to pray. An accountant, a good one, will venture no opinion until she has managed to put a model in to a spreadsheet.
Little Richard honestly believed there was no problem which could not be solved by dancing, which is the odd-man-out as he is primarily thought of as a rock'n'roller rather than a hoofer. He probably meant "Playing some rock'n'roll loudly and dancing to it until the problem goes away of its own accord". Some truth in that too; a great number of problems are best dealt with by doing nothing, although that's disastrous in a smaller proportion of cases. Wisdom lies in knowing when to do nothing, when to do something, and what that thing ought to be to avoid making the situation worse than if you'd done nothing in the first place.
If an advisor is counselling you against their own best techniques it goes against this powerful human grain. You should at least listen, then, when a person doesn't suggest that a problem can be solved by applying generous amounts of money to their profession.
"I was a marine engineer for 43 years."
It is reasonable to assume The Filthy Engineer knows what he's talking about when he says that there is something hideously wrong with the calculations for what it will cost to maintain wind farms at sea, compared to the energy they will generate.
Also, he's prepared to wade through the documents to get to the heart of the ignorance, for which we should all be thankful. Now, if only we can get people in authority to take notice of his summary.
(*) Scott Adams: the strip is on page 103 of "How to Build a Better Life By Stealing Office Supplies", which is nineteen years old now. If you register with Amazon you can use the Look Inside feature to see it (again).
It became one of the best known workings of the theme "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".