Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

I’m currently working my way through Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc. It’s an incredible read (and I’m only 44% into it). I’ve already absorbed a huge amount of wisdom, but I read the paragraph below and wanted to share it. It’s in relation to change, randomness and the ability to act given new circumstances:

“Once, when I was on a retreat in Marin, I heard a delightful—and possibly apocryphal—story about what happened when the British introduced golf to India in the 1820s. Upon building the first golf course there, the Royal Calcutta, the British discovered a problem: Indigenous monkeys were intrigued by the little white balls and would swoop down out of the trees and onto the fairways, picking them up and carrying them off. This was a disruption, to say the least. In response, officials tried erecting fences to keep the monkeys out, but the monkeys climbed right over. They tried capturing and relocating the monkeys, but the monkeys kept coming back. They tried loud noises to scare them away. Nothing worked. In the end, they arrived at a solution: They added a new rule to the game— “Play the ball where the monkey drops it.”

I really liked the story and found it applies well to work, both on large projects and on day-to-day hiccups. It also reminded me of ‘strategic acceptance’ – the ability to acknowledge when circumstances have changed, accepting that what’s done is done, and shifting your brain power to the best course of action from your new position.

Planning is one way to reduce the frequency of these situations, but it’s impossible to predict all possible outcomes, and to try and do so would be a poor use of time. Being able to adjust your activity (or golf swing) when it’s required is crucial to producing great work and reducing wasted time.