February 24, 2020

Cargo Cults of Communications

There is this very interesting concept called the cargo cult. These are belief systems that copy the daily (and very every day) rituals of Western civilizations with the expectation of to be awarded with material wealth – particularly, goods. So a cargo cult imitates the symbols they associate with the wealth: they build an airstrip, they wear camouflages, they carry the flags of other nations. All for the hope that their worship will be rewarded with a precious drop of cargo from the heavens.

You and I both know that wearing camouflage has nothing to do with an airdrop. We have a name for this: It is called superstition. When you perform a ritual without understanding the causality behind it.

There is the same superstition in the coding scene: “cargo cult programming.” It means when someone takes a block of code without understanding what it does and just put it in their work. It feels very much the same in our profession too. I will go ahead and call it: Cargo cult communications.

You read a blog post, detailing a tactic. Or go visit a web page full of these recipes and pick one. And do it to the letter without understanding why, how and what. You follow a ritual without understanding what you are summoning.

And how it is a problem? Well, it is not as long as this magic tomes keep working. But when a problem arises with no obvious answers, no spell to follow, no higher being to answer your prayers, then it is a problem. Because you just spent the opportunities that would help you learn your craft.

And let me be honest: the magic tomes do not work. They seem to work, sure. But if you had put the same amount of resources to a strategic activity or a test, it would help you much more than an overly used recipe.

Don’t follow someone else’s tactics, understand their reasoning. Don’t cook the recipe, dissect it and learn why is why. Experiment – fail or succeed. But learn. Otherwise, you will continue to think the camouflage pants and raining food are connected.

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