There is a story recounted in Richard Feynman’s book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! about what Feynman dubbed cargo cult science: In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas —he’s the controller —and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land. Over the years, this observation from the science community has become applied to software engineering and system administration: adopting tools and procedures of more successful teams and companies in the misguided notion that the tools and procedures are what made those teams successful, so they will also make your own team successful in the same ways. Sadly, the cause and effect are backward: the success that team experienced led them to create the tools and procedures, not the other way around.
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