The Tidy Ways

A young priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. Next to this temple there was a smaller temple where lived an old Zen master.  Once the priest was expecting special guests in the evening.  So he woke up early that day and spent a long time carefully raking up and arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

The priest finally finished by noon and stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he called out to the old master.  “Yes” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you”.  After hesitating, the priest lifted the old man over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Some leaves fell.  “There”, he said, “you can put me back now”.

No doubt, the young priest had ‘reacted’ professionally to the call of duty.   However, he overlooked that loose leaves will fall again by the time his guests arrive.  If only he had ‘preemptively’ shaken out the dying leaves before he started cleaning, the garden would have stayed tidier much longer.

There are two ways to address a mess. The first one is reactive.  When things go wrong, most professionals rise to the occasion—be it waking up in the night to comfort a fuming customer or slogging over a weekend to address showstoppers. The second one is preemptive.  Reducing the probability of a mess.  By investing adequately in requirement gathering, design or unit testing phases, adapting best practices and lifecycle management tools among others.
Preemptive addresses the future; reactive handles the past.  When both are in action, the present has less mess, a delighted crop of customers, and a stress-free workforce. 

Prevention, Adapted, Bumps, Style


  1. Awesom. Best practices very well defined in the form of Story.
    I am also leading a team of 6 people in Cybage company, this will definitely motivate me for a better directions.

  2. cybage means should be creativity

  3. Very clear explanation with the help of very simple example. This article has broadened my view in doing things “right at first time” at work as well in taking decisions in personal life.

  4. Nice.Thought provoking article!
    Preempting needs lot of presence of mind or to say in Zen way “mindfulness”.Leaders needs to have this trait.Along with SDLC ,estimation/proposal making also needs to be focused.I believe half the battle is won if the estimate/proposal is right especially for fixed cost projects.Team working on proposals can preempt many future problems by considering client expectations vis a vis team capabilities vis a vis technical implementability of the solution proposed.

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The Tidy Ways - Arun Nathani Blog