19 September 2014

Play the ball where the monkey drops it

This post is again inspired by something I read in Creativity, Inc.

Story told in Creativity, In.:
When the British first brought golf to Calcutta, they were faced with an unforeseen problem. The monkeys that lived in the area around the course were fascinated by the flying balls and would run onto the course to snatch them. After trying a variety of methods to prevent the monkeys from doing this, this simply instituted the rule 'Play the ball where the monkey drops it.'

Related story not from the book:
I remember hearing a story about a university that was redesigning the buildings and green spaces along a section of campus. Instead of putting in walkways immediately after finishing the new buildings on campus and laying new grass, the landscape designer decided to leave everything dirt for 1 month. After a month, he returned and found the paths worn in the dirt by the students as they chose for themselves the best route to get to their next location. Then the landscaper poured concrete paths where the students traveled most and landscaped around it. The university never had worn grass sections or damaged landscaping because of this.

We often create policies and procedures to prevent behaviors from occurring. We do things like install heavy filters on our Internet firewalls to prevent students from visiting inappropriate websites or unlock certain bathrooms to limit where we need to supervise students or ban cell phones in the classroom because we feel they will be a distraction. But what if we stopped doing that? I mean all of it. What if we let the students use their best judgement and then developed policies based around their behaviors? Or better yet, create policies that encourage and reward proper behaviors rather than only punishing bad ones?