The BBC has an article touching on Mao’s “four pests” campaign. A perfect example of the difficulty of top-down design and the unexpected consequence that arise from limited overall knowledge of a system.
In the 1950s China is seen to have four big evils – rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows.
The method for dealing with sparrows was
- Send out the millions of villagers.
- Get them to make noise to scare the sparrows so they take to the air and stay there.
- Eventually the sparrows die from exhaustion
It worked. Lots of sparrows died.
The problem is that the sparrows are necessary to eat locusts. Without the sparrows, there is a plague of locusts and millions of people die.
A link with connectivism
Mao simply didn’t know the system well enough. Couldn’t see the unexpected consequences.
Was there anyone in the Chinese system, at that time, who could? I wonder if somewhere there were peasants with long term connections with agriculture that had this knowledge. Perhaps a biologist.
This sounds to me as an example of connectivism.
From the connectivism article
Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas.
The phrase herding cats is often used to characterise the problems associated with implementing change and innovation within organisations, especially higher education.
The above is one example of why I think this metaphor is broken. Hopefully, I can expand on this and generate some useful publications, and more importantly some insight to help at work.