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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If we can clone a sheep,

I am calling for an all out ban on the the following cliches. First on my list is, "We don't have to reinvent the wheel." The second is the ubiquitous use of the moon landing as an example of our pinnacle of technological success.

It is not that I am a big fan of reinventing the wheel. It's just that sometimes the wheel is broken or missing. The phrase itself is not offensive it is the incessant and inappropriate use of the maxim. Often it seems to be a dodge. Individuals that are not relishing the upcoming task will quickly blurt out, "We don't need to reinvent the wheel." Often the metaphorical wheel has been misplaced, misused, or misappropriated. At that point what seems like a sage bit of advice is just getting in the way of getting the job done.

I imagine that during period immediately following the initial invention of the wheel people were so excited by the possibilities that there were plenty of patent infringing types that were trying to reinvent it. In fact the first recorded use of this truism was in the opinion of judge in the case of Ugh v. Grunt. At the time of course he was right, but as society progressed the wheel has gone through many iterations adapting to new environments and vehicles.

So the original saying has lost much of its nascent meaning and is frequently uttered by the more stubborn members of committee.

The wheel was the moon landing of its time. Many a cave wife could be heard saying to her husband, "If we can invent the wheel, then surely you can find a way to bring home a decent piece of meat." The wheel of course has been replaced by the moon landing as the pinnacle of success. Surely, if we can put a man on the moon, then there is a whole slew of minor accomplishments that would pale in comparison.

My problems with this phrase are numerous, but high on my list is the fact that the moon landing happened nearly 50 yrs. ago and hasn't been repeated in quite some time. Possible replacements include, "if we can clone a sheep," "if we can make vast amounts of information available to everyone," or "if we can eat genetically modified crops." Seriously we probably have more computing power on our desktop than the entirety NASA had in 1969.

However, my main problem is that this particular giant leap for mankind was a massive government funded endeavour. If the same resources were piled on any of the problems gauged by the success of the Apollo program then I'm positive their solution is readily accessible.

The problem with these or any cliches is that they're easy to say and agree with. They are, however, lazy requiring very little thought from the speaker or the listener. What they gain in flair and efficiency they lose in accuracy and effectiveness. These two particular platitudes have not been excoriated as much as there cousins the "paradigm shift" and "thinking outside the box," but they are equally useless if not dangerous.

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