Blindly copying success doesn’t equal success

My mother-in-law is a good, kind-hearted woman. But like so many people she often copies things from people she respects without understanding what she is copying.

The following is a true story: the tale of my mother-in-law and the 2 liter bottles.

My mother-in-law used to bury these sealed 2 liter bottles full of water around the perimeter of the house in the Philippines. Finally one day I asked her why. “To stop the cats from pooing in the yard” she said. (Stray cats are a BIG problem in the Philippines, like rats in 18th century London).

She got the idea from her well-to-do neighbors, who in turn got it from the Japanese.

The thing is: the idea never actually worked for anyone, although many, otherwise smart, people believed it did.

Nothing beats doing your own research

  • If she had understood the intended purpose behind the buried bottles
  • If she had done some research to verify whether the promised outcome was based in fact

She would have saved herself a lot of time and effort uselessly digging holes.

The practice stems from a myth, or rather several variations on a myth.

Take your pick:

  • Cats being afraid of water
  • Cats smelling the water and thinking it’s a watering hole
  • Cats seeing their reflection in the water and being afraid of it

I’m not sure which, if any, of these myths my mother-in-law thought was at play or whether she simply copied the practice because of who she saw do it. Either way, if she had done just a bit of research she would have found it doesn’t work.

So after a lot of effort and a back-ache she ended up with a yard full of useless buried water bottles and cat poo.

The point of the story: well, there are a few.

  1. Research, research, research. Nothing beats doing your own research. Don’t just copy something, research the why and what and see if and how it meets your goals. Understand what you are copying – even if it is from a guru or someone your respect.
  2. Just because someone else is successful doesn’t mean that every idea they have contributed to that success. The only thing worse than a bad idea, is a bad idea blindly copied. Never act on advice without questioning and testing it for accuracy – as it applies to your situation – first.
  3. Expertise or success in one area doesn’t automatically translate to another. Just because her neighbor was a successful lawyer or accountant doesn’t mean they knew anything about pest control or were any less likely to operate on faulty assumptions.  Even our heroes are human.

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