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An Engineering Parable

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

An Engineering Parable

Picture of IrvinOnce in a great kingdom a long time ago, in a far away land, there was a great emperor who went to the best engineer in the land. He told this engineer that he wanted him to build him a gorgeous tower a mile high, with gold appointments on every corner. He told him that he wanted it to be built in three months.

The engineer suspected that he couldn't accomplish this task in the time alloted, however since it was so great an honor to be asked to perform this task, he did not inform his emperor that he didn't think this could be done. Instead he talked to his subordinates and told them what their tasks would be. One by one, they told him that there was no way to accomplish their tasks with the necessary quality. The engineer told his subordinates that they had to perform their tasks within the time frame required.

The three months went by, and at the end they had built the tower. The engineer went back to the great emperor and informed him that they had completed. The emperor and his aides went to the tower with the engineer. The engineer showed the emperor around the tower. After the tour was completed, the emperor, being the gracious emperor that he was, pulled the engineer over to him and said, “You built me a tower, it is almost high enough, though it leans, many of the corners have gold on them, but not all. Above all, you have completed the task in exactly the alloted time. It is not what I wanted. Please take three more months to do it correctly.”

The engineer went back to the subordinate engineers, who were the best in their class, and chastized them, informing them that they must perform to a higher standard. The engineers went out and didn't sleep. They worked themselves almost to death. In three more months, the tower was completed again. The engineer went back to the emperor, and again the emperor visited the castle. Again the emperor pulled him aside and told him, “This time the tower is better, it is straight, but it is not one mile high, and some of the interior walls are not completed. Please go back and try again, you have three months.”

This time the engineer got new engineers, he recuited the best engineers in the world. He paid them the highest wages. They built the tower in three months. Again the emperor visited the tower. The emperor yet again pulled the engineer aside. “You are the greatest engineer in all the world, you have had all methods disposed to you, and yet the tower is the right height, it is straight, and all the walls are finished, but every corner does not have gold. Is this project too much for you to handle?” The engineer hung his head in shame. He replied “Master emperor, I have failed you, this project can not be completed in three months. With more time I could complete this.” The emperor frowned, “Have you known this all along?” The engineer replied, “Yes I have. I have no excuse.” The emperor said nothing for five minutes. “You have wasted much of your countrymen's time and money. How much time will it take to perform the task that I have asked of you?” The engineer paused. The engineer responded, “It will take eight months. That is the fastest it can be done properly.” The emperor told him, “You will take eight months, and you will complete this properly.”

The engineer took eight months. He went to the emperor much humbled. The emperor toured the tower. “This tower is fit for an emperor. It is exactly what I have asked you for.” The engineer smiled weakly.