It's never too early to learn about yak shaving: What Russian folk tales can teach about life and technology
Toddlers love to read the same book over and over again: it helps them learn language and gives them a small sense of security, comfort, predictability, and mastery over even a small part of the confusing world around them. While helpful for them, it can drive parents crazy (or lead them to come up with ridiculous premises for blog posts).
Yesterday my toddler insisted on my reading for the fifth time (that day) the Russian folk tale "Петушок и бобовое зёрнышко," or "The Rooster and the Bean." (Click those links to read the tale in the respective language.)
The gist of the story is that this poor rooster who is always rushing chokes on a bean, and in order to save his life, a chicken needs to solve one problem after another in an endless cascade of sub-tasks which finally allow her to save the rooster's life in the end.
The story teaches (at least) three obvious lessons. First, don't rush while eating (or in general). Second, accomplishing things in life (or getting anything non-trivial like a "project" done for that matter) is going to be much more complicated and involve a lot more dependent steps completed first. And third, often many other people will be involved whose help you will need in order to get what you want done.
But for me personally, I secretly got a kick out of reading the story because it also teaches a valuable lesson about technology development. When I was at Google, there were many times I tried to do something seemingly quite simple ("just change the color over here" or "just move this piece of code from here to here"), and it required 5+ steps of dependent work (refactoring, renaming, moving, etc.) to be completed in series before the final trivial change/fix could be made. I learned from a teammate that this is generally called "yak shaving," which refers to the seemingly endless series of useless activities which, by allowing you to overcome intermediate difficulties, allow you to solve a larger problem [Sources: 1, 2, 3].
And I've experienced the same thing in life and house projects as well: "I just want to install a camera here" devolves into "I need to run power here" which devolves into "I need to rewire, order, and set up a thousand other things first."
I guess it's never too early to learn the lesson that projects are complicated, and getting a big thing done requires patience with lots of steps, which is why this Russian folk tale about the rooster seem to teach this lesson so early on.
If you want to waste any more of your precious life, you can watch the pointless video below of the Ren & Stimpy Show episode about the (pointless) "Yak Shaving Day" that apparently inspired the term "yak shaving."
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