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Should we bail or should we row?

January 24, 2008


Imagine this as a training scenario

You are the captain of a small boat out in the middle of a deep lake.   There are ten people on the boat with you and ten sets of oars and ten buckets.   The boat has suddenly developed a large hole in the bottom and is taking on water fast and will soon sink.   The boat is some distance from shore, and you have nothing with which to plug the hole.  Only by rowing to shore and beaching the boat can you eventually  fix the hole.   How many people do you set to rowing, and how many to bailing?   If everyone bails, the incoming water can be kept at bay, but no progress toward shore will be made, and eventually those bailing will fatigue and the boat will sink.   If everyone were to row, the boat would make good speed, but would fill with water and sink before it reached the shore.   Somewhere in here, is an elegant algebraic equation that would help us determine the right mix of resources put to rowing and bailing to allow the boat sufficient speed to reach the shore before the bailer’s collapse, and sufficient bailing resources to provide the rowers with just the amount of time needed to reach the shore.

 This may seem contrived, but as humans, we have to learn to budget tactical resources (bailing) with strategic resources (rowing) in order to accomplish our objective of getting to shore safely.   When confronted with crisis, the natural tendency is to press everyone to bailing.

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