Well, to be honest it’s not really a thing I should be more Zen about, although it does exercise me from time to time, but it came up (yet again!) on the Facebook Did You Swim Today? page and I nearly wrote a big post there. However, rather than pouring gasoline on that particular already rather well-fuelled fire, I thought I would do a Things I Should Be More Zen About post here instead. Lucky you!!
Now first, for those of you who are not lucky enough to be members of the outdoor swimming community, I should point out that this is a long and historic debate which has gone on probably since before wetsuits were invented and which makes a more than annual appearance in open water swimming forums such as Did You Swim Today?, along with other hardy perennials such as How do I stop my wetsuit rubbing? and How do I stop my goggles steaming up? (The answers to the last two, in case you’re interested, are Bodyglide sport lubricant and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo – wipe on, rinse off, allow to dry, job done!).
Those of you who are part of any community will recognise these as examples of those debates which go on for ever and never get resolved. It’s similar to the proportional representation debate in British politics, or the How do we make the England football team less crap at football? discussion which traditionally takes place after every major international football tournament, or, indeed, the jam first/cream first and tea first/milk first debates which are required by statute to take place every time two or more English people order a cream tea.
They pop up regularly not so much because the arguments change, or because, God forbid, there are ever any new arguments, but because people have feelings and they need to give vent to them. And, such is the way of human beings, they will debate every bit as passionately about whether the jam goes under or over the cream as they will about the possibility of a fundamental change to our electoral system, if not, indeed, more so.
This latter phenomenon is something I have mentioned here before and which is known as Bike Shed Syndrome, a name which comes from the classic example of its kind. A board of directors is gathered for its quarterly board meeting. On the agenda are three items: Number 1. The submission of plans for a major new group project to build a new nuclear power station. Number 2. A proposal from the Head of IT to buy an expensive new software system. Number 3. A proposal from the Head of Facilities to build a new bike shed.
Item Number 1 is decided after a forty-five minute presentation by the Group Head of Operations supported by a noted industry expert. The Board asks three questions, which are all answered, and then votes nem con to approve the project moving forward to the next stage. Item Number 2 is decided after a thirty minute presentation by the Head of IT, followed by a lively forty-five minute debate during which numerous questions are asked and answered. It concludes with a decision to move ahead with scoping the purchase of a new system, but not necessarily the one the Head of IT wanted. Number 3, which is a two-page submission from the Head of Facilities, who is not present, triggers a lively and wide-ranging debate covering matters such as the construction of the bike shed, the eco-friendliness of the bike shed, the siting of the bike shed, the desirability of signing up to a Cycle to Work scheme, the possibility of sponsoring a community bike scheme and the need for a car-pool scheme and for staff to be able to work flexibly from home. At the end of an hour and a half a decision has still not been made, so a Bicycle Shed Working Group is set up to investigate further with the brief of reporting back to the next meeting with recommendations.
This is, of course, an exaggeration for humorous effect, but the point is a good one. The larger and more complex or specialised the proposal in question, the less likely we are to feel qualified to decide upon it and therefore the less likely we are to engage with it. Whereas everyone can have an opinion on a bike shed, a cream tea or, indeed, a wetsuit.