Friday, July 19, 2013

A Branch in the Road

The other day I was driving Ethan to work. Along one of the rural country roads, a large tree branch had come down and was blocking about half of one lane. The drivers had adjusted. There was enough of a shoulder on the oncoming lane of traffic that they simply gave a wide berth to the lane that had the tree branch. Everyone was taking it nice and slow, but both lanes of traffic were moving.

I dropped Ethan off at camp and by the time I passed the tree branch scene again, a motorcycle cop had come to direct traffic. He was now letting one lane of traffic through at a time while making the other wait. I assume this was until someone could come to haul the branch off the road.

I wondered about the efficiency of the "group think" solution to the tree branch problem versus the inefficiency of the "institutional" solution by the cop. Why did he feel compelled to stop what was clearly a win-win solution to the problem and implement his own win-lose solution? Was it because this was his job? Did he have a procedure to follow that didn't allow him to use common sense? Was he afraid of a law suit should someone accidentally run into the branch and have an accident?

I know this idea has applications in other situations too. It doesn't always work to have a group of people who are directly affected by a problem, concern or issue come up with the solution, but a lot of the time it does.

I don't know what else to say about this because I'm tired and want to go to bed. But I know there is something more to this and I'm just scratching the surface. Something about zero-tolerance policies, or national health care, or the US Postal Service, or Congress.

What happens to the quality of solutions when we are constrained by rules that don't always make sense? I seem to remember hearing about a small dairy that had to close because of new rules about milk that were designed to favor big milk producers.

I'm sure there are more examples.

I'll figure it all out later.

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