The house of the six wise men

An old saga tells the story of the different levels that have to be taken into account when designing a new solution. It goes like this:

One day, an ambitious young shipbuilder came to the House of the Wise Men. The queen had personally sent him. He was to learn there how to make the most useful ships possible.

In the forecourt of the building, the shipbuilder met an old man sweeping up leaves. The old man showed him the way to the entrance, where he was already expected.

The shipbuilder entered the first chamber.

"Are you here to get some advice from me?", asked the first man quietly. "I can indeed give you some. The most important thing is how useful your ship will be for your mission. Think carefully about what you want your ship to be able to do. Does it need to have oars, in case there is no wind? Does it need to have weapons, so that it can defend itself? Have you given any thought to navigation? Many a ship has run aground because it unintentionally entered shallow waters. You have to weigh up what is especially important for you. If your ship cannot do enough things, you will not reach your destination. If you want too much, it will go down. Take note: The functionality determines the usefulness."

Deep in thought, the shipbuilder went to the second door, which opened as he approached.

"There is nothing more important than the reliability of your ship," said the second wise man. "Is the hull sturdy enough, but also agile and fast enough to reach your destination? Is the ship built so that it doesn't capsize when the waves become high? Do the masts remain firm in a storm? What do you do when the wind tears your sails? Don't forget: A ship can only be useful if it is reliable and free from defects."

The shipbuilder was still thinking as he entered the next chamber, where the third wise man was waiting for him.

"The most important aspect is your ship's handling. If your helmsman cannot control the ship, you will not be able to avoid obstacles. You have to be able to set the sails and also take them down again quickly, if the wind gets too strong. Otherwise you are doomed. My advice is: Make sure your crew can handle the ship and the equipment before you go to sea. Because, remember: All the technology in the world is only useful if people can use it."

The shipbuilder was excited in anticipation of the advice waiting for him behind the fourth door.

"Your priority has to be sustainability," said the fourth wise man. "Be careful regarding from where you take your timber, otherwise one day there will not be any good trees left. Will the tar pitch that that you need for your planks poison your village? That would result in nobody being left when you return. Does the yarn for your fabrics come from honest sources? Only what pays dividends in the long term can bring real benefits. You have the choice: You can be highly respected or ostracised."

This made an impression on the young shipbuilder, as he finally went through the fifth door.

"The greatest importance should be given to the impression your ship makes on people. Otherwise you will not be able to find a crew that is prepared to sail with you. Your ship has to radiate power, so that pirates do not consider it easy prey. Be sure to make it graceful. Remember that you will spend many days and nights on the ship. It should be a pleasure rather than a hardship to spend your time on the ship. Pay attention to every little detail, because beauty is an important asset. Everything that surrounds us must be appealing, because without beauty it is of no use."

When the young shipbuilder left the building, he again passed the old man sweeping up leaves.

"So," asked the old man. "Are you satisfied with the advice you have received?"

"I'm confused," replied the young shipbuilder. "Each of the five wise men gave me a plausible suggestion regarding what to focus on in order to ensure that my ship can be of the greatest possible use. So now I'm really not sure where to start."

"Could you give me a little bit of help to sweep the corner under this shrubbery? I'm old and can hardly reach there," the old man asked him.

The young shipbuilder took the broom and started sweeping. "These leaves get stuck. Your broom needs to have fewer, but harder bristles to be able to sweep here. And the nice handle looks appealing, but constantly slides out of my hand. Your broom is most likely much better suited to cleaning a doorstep. I now understand what the first wise man meant: It is the functionality that determines everything!"

The old man smiled. "Come back tomorrow, and we will continue with our work."

By Michael Richter