The Fence Needs To Go

amplifi clarifi simplifi Nov 13, 2020

Do you know any well-intentioned leaders who come in with new initiatives without first removing tired practices from your current reality? Perhaps you've had change happen to you and it feels like change for the sake of change?

Decluttering and change are necessary and there shouldn't be tension between the two. Decluttering is always the ideal lead domino. An effective leader invites change with, "what can we do right now to make anything on our things-to-do lists easier or unnecessary?"

Of course, sometimes, potentially impactful new ideas reveal themselves. While new shiny toys are always captivating, we need to first ask how this might make any other practice or policy easier or unnecessary, and this habit quite naturally leads back to a little decluttering.

However, some have an itchy trigger finger and quickly declutter just because things feel messy. Discomfort isn't reason enough to hand out erasers and red pens.

Effective leaders understand it's impossible to thoughtfully declutter without coming back to their why and interrogating the very reason the old structures were created. They employ the Chesterson Fence principle:

Don't remove a fence until you know why it was put up in the first place.

Let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate is erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer... 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." (C.K. Chesterson, 1929)

Most fences are carefully built by people who reason and plan. This is why change for the sake of change can make things worse.

But yesterday's thought isn't reason enough to keep a fence today.

We can thoughtfully declutter with an ax because times change and it's likely the fence needs to go.

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