There are numerous iterations of this story ranging from coffee, to ice cream as the subject, but it generally goes like this:
They were sitting around on the porch in Coleman, Texas. The temperature was 104 degrees, but the porch was shaded, and everyone was comfortable. Then, Jerry Harvey’s father-in-law , filling the sudden peaceful silence said, “You know what would be good in this heat….Ice Tea. After a long pause, he went on to note, “you know there is a place in Abilene that makes good tea.”
Jerry said out loud that “tea would be good right now.” But in the back of Jerry’s mind a little voice said that I don’t want to travel 53 miles in the heat of summer in a 1958 Buick to have dinner in a lousy cafeteria.
Before Jerry could say that out loud, his wife said, “It sounds like a great idea.” And Jerry heard himself saying, “Sounds good to me if your mother wants to go,” Thinking that she would not in fact want to undertake the journey. Jerry’s mother said, “Of course I’ll go.”
Four hours and 106 miles later, they returned. The heat had been brutal. Perspiration and dust stuck to their clothing and bodies. The tea, as Jerry guessed, had been not worth the trip given that they could of made it in the kitchen and comfort of their own home.
Later that evening Jerry said, quite dishonestly, “It was a good trip wasn’t it.” Nobody spoke. Finally, his mother in law said, “To tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much. I would rather have stayed home, and I wouldn’t have gone at all if you all had not wanted to go.” To which Jerry responded, “I didn’t pressure you. I was happy here. I only went because I thought it was what Dad wanted.” His wife said, “You and Dad and Mamma were the ones who wanted to go. I just wanted to make you happy.” And his father in law, who initiated the whole thing, said, “I never wanted to go to Abilene. I was just making conversation and thought you might be bored sitting at home with the rest of us.”
So in a nut shell, they all made a 106 mile round trip in the God forsaken desert under furnace- like conditions to drink tea they could get anywhere, in a dingy cafeteria, on a trip nobody had been looking forward to, and that nobody actually wanted to take.
So as we look at ways to pursue smart design, I think at the core of smart design is this idea that we must also be mindful that we don’t at the same time jump into pursuing efforts under a false consensus. This means that we need to truly empower whole team to be engaged, to feel open to speaking their mind, and to encourage effective decision making within the group. Otherwise we may find ourselves on the “road to Abilene.”