Friday, January 20, 2006

曲突徙薪无恩泽,焦头烂额为上客 -- An IT Phenomena

This is a thought that I had during my two week vacation.

Sitting at in-law's home, I grabbed a book about Chinese idioms for my nephew to kill some time, and a story caught my attention.

The story started when a guy built a beautiful house, and invited his friends and neighbors over for a house warming party. As everyone else admiring the house and congratulating the host, one guest, however, made a comment, "The chimney is too straight up and the fire woods are too close to the stove. If you don't make the chimney into an S shape and move the logs away from the fire, chances are that the house will catch fire before long."

The host, however, was not very happy to hear these, thinking this guest is saying words of such bad luck on such a good day.

As the luck went, the house did catch fire a month later. All the neighbors came to help. Eventually the fire was put out, leaving everyone with burns and bruises.

The host was very grateful. He opened the kitchen immediately. He had everyone sitting in the best seat, and treated them with the best food and drinks.

During the meal, another guest, who also came to the house-warming party, brought up the topic, "A month ago during your house warming party, there was a guest that predicted that this would happen. Had you listen to him at that time, chances are that your house will not catch fire and we would not be sitting here enjoying the feast. Don't you find it backwards, when the one who recommended the modification on the chimney and moving away the log was not being appreciated, while the rest of us with burns and bruises are being treated as the best guests (曲突徙薪无恩泽,焦头烂额为上客)?"

The host came to realize the mistake that he has made. He immediately sent for that guest, and treated him with the best seat in the house.

As I work through projects and in different organizations, in ThoughtWorks or before ThoughtWorks, I noticed that the person who is good at putting out the fires are always the one that gets the limelight. The person could be a manager who knows how to talk to the customer to cut the scope in the last minute, or find ways to persuade the developers to work overtime, or he/she could be a developer who is good at digging through a bunch of messy code and come up with a hacking patch for a last minute bug.

On the other hand, there don't seem to have enough attention to the sources of all these crises. People tend to pay most attention to how to resolve these crises rather than how to prevent these crises. So advice was not given any thought and measures were not taken because "if it aint broke, don't fix it".

And there are more crises.

And it is more important to keep the ones who knows how to put out fires with burns and bruises.
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