of books and myths

Kerry Buckley came up with a wonderful piece of apocrypha when commenting on a recent post of mine. I reproduce the entire comment here:

  • ….During the run-up to their launch, the schedule slipped significantly, and the CEO (overall a great guy) made the classic engineering management mistake of adding many more developers to the late project in hopes of speeding its completion.
  • …
  • After failing to win several arguments on this point, the engineers … each bought a copy of [The Mythical Man-Month], brought the CEO into a conference room, and stacked up the copies of the book, telling him, It is extremely urgent that you read this book. We’ve bought you many copies so that you might read it faster. They made their point.

Great stuff. It’s amazing how many people I meet today who have zero understanding of Brooks’ book. Maybe we’ve made it too easy for people to call themselves project managers; maybe we roll over too easily and go into the hairshirt-and-woe-is-me mindset as IT gets accused yet again of not delivering; maybe we’ve just grown to be too apathetic. I sense that for many IT people, life is now about Take A Number. Folks, we need to start caring again. It’s up to us.

On a lighter note. Another apocryphal story.

There was this guy, worked years at trying to get his book published. Failed gloriously. Finally went for a vanity publisher. Published the book. Failed gloriously.

Last throw of the dice. He rents a disused warehouse, scheduled for demolition in a few weeks. Converts it into a simple bookshop. Stocks it up with a zillion copies of his book. And nothing else. Calls the shop The One-Book Bookshop.

Fails gloriously.

There was a die still tumbling, though.

He puts up a notice in the window, saying:

Satisfaction Guaranteed. If you don’t like the book, come back anytime and exchange it for any other book in the shop. No quibbles.

ABC, NBC and the rest of television’s alphabet soup cover the shop.

His book becomes a best-seller.

By the way, if any of you knows how to get a copy of this book, please let me know. I’d love to acquire one. Again the blogosphere may succeed where Google failed.

3 thoughts on “of books and myths”

  1. JP, I am amazed that you have encountered many people who even are AWARE of Brooks’ book (which I always used to call OS/360, MEA MAXIMA CULPA). Actually, I think that the book’s greatest virtue is also its greatest vice. It offers many gems of insight on the TECHNOLOGY of software development; but totally overlo0ks the fact that, whenever there is a REAL client involved, any development project MUST be SOCIO-technical.

    I recently wrote some reflections on another book of the same vintage as Brooks’, DECISION SUPPORT SYSTEMS: AN ORGANIZATIONAL PERSPECTIVE, by Keen and Scott Morton. You can find them on my blog at:


    DSS had its day on the Gartner hype curve even before the curve was codified, but the perspectives of this book on the need for client involvement in the development process are far more general than the case studies based on the quaint and antiquated solutions they discuss.

    Of course these books have at least one thing in common: They are perceived by today’s community as ancient history. Today’s workplace continues to be haunted by the ghost of Henry History-is-Bunk Ford. Where Keen and Scott Morton really hit their stride is where they lay siege to an educational system that fails so badly at providing the talent necessary for the approach to development they advocate. That system still does not recognize the value of subject matter that is only valuable in a setting of REFLECTION (such as history). My own motto is: If you cannot reflect on what you have experienced, then you are never better than an IDIOT SAVANT, which means that, while you may have some powerful skills, at the end of the day, you are still an idiot!

  2. Thanks, I will go dig up the Morton book after reading what you say on the link. I must confess I haven’t read it.

Let me know what you think

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