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Chesterton’s Fence: A Lesson in Second Order Thinking

In the article "Chesterton’s Fence: A Lesson in Second Order Thinking," published on September 5, 2022, the concept of Chesterton's Fence and its implications for decision-making are explored. The principle of Chesterton's Fence, inspired by a quote from G.K. Chesterton's book, "The Thing," states that one should not remove a fence or barrier until they understand why it was put there in the first place.

The article highlights the importance of second-order thinking, which involves considering not only the immediate consequences of decisions but also the consequences of those consequences. It argues that it is crucial to understand the rationale behind existing systems or structures before making changes, as hasty interventions can lead to unintended negative effects.

The author provides various examples to illustrate the principle of Chesterton's Fence. One such example is the significance of hierarchies in companies. While hierarchical structures have their drawbacks, attempting to do away with them without understanding their purpose can lead to a less efficient or fair system. The article also discusses the potential risks of removing habits without addressing the underlying needs they fulfill, emphasizing the importance of comprehending the reasons behind habits before attempting to change them.

Furthermore, the article presents a scenario involving a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in a company. The CFO decides to eliminate free snacks and sodas without considering the impact on employee morale and company culture. The outcome is often an increase in employee turnover, indicating that the CFO failed to understand the purpose behind the existing practice.

In summary, the article advocates for a thoughtful and deliberate approach to decision-making. It emphasizes the significance of understanding the reasons behind existing systems, habits, or practices before attempting to make changes. By considering the potential second and third-order effects of actions, individuals can avoid unintended consequences and make more informed decisions.

Read the full article full article here (opens in a new tab).

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Chesterton's Fence · decision making · second order thinking · interventions · understanding · 123.456