Posts in category 'prodmgmt'

  • Chesterton's Fence

    The last few months have me thinking a lot about technology, disruption, and the metaphor Chesterton’s Fence, or why you need to think about systems before reforming them.

    Back in 1929, G. K. Chesterton, an English writer and philosopher, described what is now known as Chesterton’s Fence, a metaphor about reforming systems:

    In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and 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.’

    In the context of his writings, G. K. Chesterton was using this as an argument in favour of certain socially conservative views (hence the title of the essay “The Drift from Domesticity”). But the core principle–that it’s important to understand systems before you change them–is far more broadly applicable (and apolitical!), and is something that I think the technology industry would be wise to adopt.

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