But I Thought The Paint Was Wet!

There is a story about Russia in the days of the Czars.  In the park of St. Petersburg Winter Palace there was a beautiful lawn, on that lawn a bench, and next to that bench, two guards.  Every three hours the guards were changed.  Yet no one could explain why these guards were guarding the bench.  One day an ambitious young lieutenant was put in charge of the Palace Guard.  He started wondering and asking questions.  Finally, he found a little old man, the Palace historian. 

“Yes,” the old man said, “I remember.”  During the reign of Peter the Great, 200 years ago, the bench got a fresh coat of paint.  The Czar was afraid that the ladies in waiting might get paint on their dresses.  So he ordered one guard to watch the bench while the paint dried.  The order was never rescinded.  Then in 1908, all the guards of the Palace were doubled for fear of a revolution.  So the bench has had two guards ever since.”

Every once in a while it’s wise to ask, “Why am I doing this?”  The modern definition of “insanity” is to continue doing what you have been doing and yet expecting different results.  Are you ignoring years of experience and knowledge only to continue doing what you have always done?  If you want different results, you will have to do something different.  Are you “guarding” a work model that lost its effectiveness years ago?  Are you trying to sell products that are obsolete?  Release the things in your life that no longer serve any purpose and get ready to see new results in the New Year.

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8 Responses to “But I Thought The Paint Was Wet!”

  1. Drew Says:

    I love this story about the bench. So many of us get in a routine and forget to ask ourselves why we are doing it. Another great post Dan. As another year winds down its great to reflect on the past year and see which benches we should stop guarding in the new year.

  2. Daphne Says:

    This is a wonderful story. I think your admonition to your readers to ask why they are doing things could lead to some wonderful innovations and improved productivity and efficiency. I tend to ask a lot of questions at work, especially when I’m new on the job, and then if something doesn’t make sense or is especially archaic, I volunteer to come up with a better process/policy/solution. It makes my job a happier one and hopefully contributes to a better workplace environment for others.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Wendy Says:

    At first I think about all the times I either wanted to say “Why am I doing this?” or did say “Why am I doing this?” and how I got the gasp as if I was doing something very wrong and rude by asking why. Now as I read the blog over again I realized that the question “Why am I doing this?” is more directed at why am I taking jobs that don’t alow for me to understand the job I am doing clearly. I should be taking my talents and starting my own business. I am doing the same thing over and over again hoping my situation will get better if I get a higher paying job but the fact is “Why am I doing this?”!!!!!! Waiting on the higher paying J-O-B when that is not where my heart is. Now, don’t get me wrong, putting food on the table and keeping the lights on is important and I need to keep income coming in! But I also need to do as Dan has counseled many to do – make that plan to transition out of the kind of work that makes me frustrated into the kind of calling that makes me happy and God Smile!!!! Thanks for the blog Dan!!!

  4. Jorge Casinos Says:

    Are you sure that’s the fastest way to work? Are you sure s/he doesn’t need another “I love you”?

    I stress people out with my inquisitive “why do we have to do it like this?”, after a few attempts, let’s say I am not seen as the friendliest person.

  5. Eddie Hudson Says:

    Great story! For me, it’s a lifelong mission of retooling. It hasn’t always lead to ‘new’ and ‘better,’ but asking the question has helped me of late rethink the definition of work and to give serious consideration to what I want to do with my days. I asked myself today: “if everyone is on vacation (from work, not necessarily in exotic places) is that what I have to do? Wouldn’t it be better to control when I take downtime, rather than take time off because everyone else takes it?” Mind you, I REALLY, REALLY need time off, but the bigger picture is I need to manage my time and create a sense of independence. I’ve worked 30 years for others and know how to be an employee. My goal is to work for myself and control the majority of my day. That’s a change I would love to make!

  6. MotherOak Says:

    This is a precious little story. This hits home.

  7. Richard Says:

    Nice story. A friend of mine worked in the IT dept of a huge multi-national bank, and once a week, they had to shut down a part of their server/support so that a detailed report could be run off in their New York offices. The report had been specially created by bespoke software that my friend had been involved in. To run the report took a lot of effort, including a personal phone call to New York so someone could stand by to collate all the printed material it gave out. The weekly report was so big and detailed it filled a broom cupboard!!!
    After this had been going on for a couple of years, my friend got into a conversation on the phone with one of the guys in New York, and asked what he did with the report. Who did he give it to? How was it filed?
    The answer was amazing, it turned out that nobody knew what to do with the paperwork, and it was therefor taken straight to the garbage truck.

  8. Joe Says:

    This story is similar to the one where a manager put a trash bucket in the center of a hallway. The first few people by moved it to the side. The manager kept putting it back to see what would happen. After a few days people just assumed it belonged there and walked around it never bothering to ask “why” is this here?
    It becomes us to get in line, follow the crowd, except things they way they are ect,ect but breaking the cycle takes a new way of thinking and asking questions.

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