How to keep bad ideas dead and buried


Why does this old cemetery have such high thick walls?


Why does it have a barred gate? With a lock on it?

What’s inside that they are they trying to keep inside?


Whatever’s buried here they really wanted to stay buried. Christ it must be bad.

This is what we should do with bad ideas at work

Find somewhere really secure, dig a hole and chuck them in, cover with the cold earth of hard won experience. Lock the gate and throw away the key.


That old cemetery wasn’t built with high walls and locked gates to keep the foul beasts inside from escaping, but they were built to stop people outside from getting in.

In days of yore there was a brisk trade in fresh dead bodies, with student doctors needing them to perform autopsies on, to learn about the human body.

There weren’t enough bodies to go round, as only executed criminals were allowed to be used. It was illegal to use other bodies. So doctors would buy them from professional body snatchers who would raid cemeteries at night time. Relatives wouldn’t like this, so often sat guard over the grave for a few nights, presumably till the dear departed was too mouldy to be used in dissection.

Hence the high walls and barred gates, to stop people taking the dead outside to where the living are.

This is what happens at work. It’s not the old dead ideas that come back, it’s people who go and get them.
Why on earth would people return to ideas that didn’t work?

Ideas, mental models, cracking schemes, whatever you call them, they aren’t judged against what works or “does this bake bread?”.

In command and control cultures mental models and thinking aren’t judged by testing against purpose, on the whole point of everything, but on what is popular. What will be politically acceptable. What gets you out of today’s tight scrape.

What sort of high walls and locked gates can be built to stop people from resurrecting dead ideas?


That’s it! A crazy scheme but it just might work…

No need to put gates up, just make the old dead ideas undesirable. Nobody will go back to them then.

This is what happened with the body snatching. In 1832 autopsies on unclaimed or donated bodied was legalised. The market for stealing bodies disappeared as suddenly there was plenty to go round.

The same happens with learning, people won’t go back to the old dead and buried ideas if they have new fresh ones that work.


In that sleep of death, what dreams may come

But there’s the rub.

Learning is the thing that keeps us playing with ideas that work, that burst with life. It gives us the power to chuck away the thinking that didn’t work.
Learning is egalitarian. Anyone can do it. That power is YOURS for the grabbing.
But in command and control cultures, you don’t have that power. For precisely those reasons.

Of course people know what works, and what doesn’t, but defensive cultures don’t allow this to be discussed.
That things that are undiscussable is itself undiscussable.

Instead of public discussion of ideas, using objective criteria, there are tacit nods and sideways insinuations. Blanket statements, dubious and untested, pass through based on popularity rather than usefulness.

Sadly people can’t learn as they can’t learn. A double bind. Learning to learn has to take place before anything. This generally happens when all the other options have been exhausted.
When the grave yard has been thoroughly ransacked, all the mouldering corpses dug up and danced with. When there’s nothing left. When rock bottom had been reached, that’s when people might resort to learning to learn. Might. Learning is not compulsory, just as survival is not compulsory.

Learning is the key to keeping dead ideas where they belong. In the grave.

Learning how to learn, that’s what builds the cemetery in the first place.


Begone foul spirit!

This entry was posted in experiment, learning, systems thinking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to keep bad ideas dead and buried

    • ThinkPurpose says:

      It’s a beautiful cemetery. Absolutely packed with clients. Still in use. There’s a cemetery over the road from it that was built after the Anatomist Act that legalised Autopsies, so it doesn’t have high walls around it.


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