Chicken or Egg : Bootstrapping, Improvement and People Development

chicken or egg

I believe Training should be provocative, fun and allow for opportunities to free the extraordinary.

As a trainer and speaker, I look for surprising content that stimulates an audience to follow new paths of questioning. If I describe learning environments as the most positive spaces on earth  –  I need to try to make sure I collect content that reinforces this idea!

In this post, I illustrate how a simple question unlocks many business and people development discussions.

What came first, the Chicken or the Egg?

Ever wondered about the answer? Well you wouldn’t be alone as this question has been given considerable thought throughout the centuries.

“You jest about what you suppose to be a triviality, in asking whether the hen came first from an egg or the egg from a hen, but the point should be regarded as one of importance, one worthy of discussion, and careful discussion at that.” Macrobius, early 5th century Roman philosopher

I pose the ‘what came first question’ in order to define or introduce value chains and the importance of understanding impact. In this context, Impact is where you unpack the calculated alternatives that could arise and the potential for those that are least desired.

It also serves as a metaphor for cycles – both the meaning and lack of meaning that can arise from perpetuation. Some argue that it illustrates the

futility of trying to decide how the cycle began instead of dealing with the cycle in the present.

The question is a great ice breaker and arguments can illustrate the different types of rationality or logic evident among us.

Which came first, X that can’t come without Y, or Y that can’t come without X?

Groups may need to agree to disagree on the ‘what came first’ answer – but when it comes to defining organisational value chains, consensus is essential.

chicken or egg3The chicken and egg scenario shows us that there is a system or process that can be unpacked regardless of your ‘what came first’ answer.

Douglas Carl Engelbart was an American engineer and inventor, and an early computer and Internet pioneer. Engelbart’s Law, the observation that the intrinsic rate of human performance is exponential, is named after him. What this means is that an individual’s abilities can grow explosively and in a way never thought possible.

Bootstrapping and The Egg and Chicken question

Engelbart was also known for the way he organised and applied his ‘bootstrapping strategy’ to his lab.  He designed the strategy to accelerate the rate of innovation. He believed that organizations could better evolve by improving the process they use for improvement (thus obtaining a compounding effect over time).

The Egg and Chicken question becomes a parable illustrating how the environment can shape opportunity, development, vision and numerous other facets of organisational culture and development. Ideally you want business systems that not only self perpetuate but self improve.

chicken or egg2Booting and Continous Improvement

Booting is the process of starting a computer, specifically in regards to starting its software. The process involves a chain reaction during which a smaller simpler program loads and then executes the larger more complicated program of the next stage. A computer “pulls itself up by its bootstraps” by running diagnostics, developing intuitive abilities i.e. it improves itself by its own efforts.

Bootstrapping can also refer to the development of successively more complex, faster programming environments. This becomes a metaphor for change, adaptation, mutation, synergy,viability, collaboration, continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

In conclusion, the Chicken and Egg question can be used to demonstrate elements of causality, design and people engagement. Use the question and great video to tease new ideas and formations from your audience.


About Leonie Hall

I'm on a mission to make training information and resources accessible so you can Keep Climbing!

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