There are people you encounter in your career, who doggedly resist change or follow the mantra; ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ It is right to question proposed changes and weigh risks. It is also a good idea to ask whether hubris, laziness and complacency is behind the resistance. The following is a poem about blind devotion to a well trodden path. It reminds me of a colleague who is no longer with us called Rob, who never followed The Calf Path of the mind, even when begged to stick with the tried and tested. Every business needs a ‘Rob’. He left us all too early and is remembered by everyone who ever worked with him. And he loved this poem.
One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But left a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then, three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
and thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then a wise bell-whether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-whethers always do.
And from the day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And bent and turned and dodged about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because ‘twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed – do not laugh
The first migrations of that calf,
And through the winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
That bent and turned and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse, with his load,
Toiled on, beneath the burning sun,
And travelled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned Metropolis.
And men two centuries and a half
Trod the footsteps of that calf
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day.
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf path of the mind,
And toil away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in and forth and back
And still their devious course pursue
To the keep the path that others do.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! Many things this tale might teach;
But I am not ordained to preach.
Sam Walter Foss (1858 – 1911)