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Cowpaths vs. Cargo-Culting

Cowpaths are safe. They are well-trodden. They were sufficient for the cows that came before.

When you start building something, getting caught up in "building it right" is how you never build it. It's a form of procrastination. Pick some familiar tools that everyone else is using to solve similar problems and start building. Follow the cowpath. After you build the thing, learn from it and improve from there.

Yeah, the zeitgeist has most of it wrong by some measure of wrong. But it's right enough for things to be built. And that's what you need, something to be built.

But is this cargo-culting? No. Also, yes. It depends on the context.

I suspect if most of us saw the inner workings of an airport, we'd be surprised at just how nonsensical and inefficient the system is. But it's sufficient enough to be an airport. If you want an airport, a good strategy is to look at what other similar successful airports are doing and, mostly, imitate them. Follow the cowpath. Once you have your own airport, start improving from there.

But if your goal isn't to build an airport, imitating an airport might not work for you.

Following the cowpath becomes cargo-culting when you lose the path and venture out on your own.

Just because something is widely used and familiar doesn't mean that the people using it are on the same path as you.

If you're the first one taking this solution down this path, you're likely to run into novel problems.

If you're the first one charting this course, imitation probably isn’t a substitute for understanding.