By the end of the 1600s, the letter “thorn” had disappeared from the English alphabet. It sounded like “th” and looked a little like “y.” Having two letters that looked the same is a weak alphabet so thorn became the digraph “th”
Thorn is a useful example of how retaining old information without understanding how it came to be is unproductive and potentially dangerous.
“Ye Olde Cheese Shop” looks like a quaint idea to make the shop seem more reliable and long-lived. It is of course just Middle English. The Y is in fact thorn and the name sounds like “The Olde Cheese Shop.” Nothing special. A bit pretentious even.
We must be very careful about old ideas and old experience. Some of them are obsolete and not only fail to work, but sometimes harm. Thorn is a bit innocuous, but not everything else is.
There is tendency to value experience as more valuable than other acquired learning but, unexamined, it is not. J. Paul Getty summed it up years ago.
“In times of great change, experience will be your worst enemy.”
Sometimes experience is in the form of maxims or heuristics. Sort of a condensed idea. Not all remain true. Some are conditionally true. Others are valuable. You must challenge old wisdom. Try to see the context within which the idea arose.
A young couple are preparing their first roast beef dinner. The new bride takes the roast cuts an inch off the end, puts the remainder in the roasting pan with the slice at the side and prepares it for the oven. The new husband asks, “Why do you cut the end off the roast?” New wife replies that her mother does it and that is how she learned.
On next visiting mother, son-in-law asks about the roast trimming. Her reply is that yes she always does it that way and her mother taught her that way.
A visit to grandmother clarifies everything. “Yes I used to do that. When we first came here from the old country, I had only a small roasting pan and the neighborhood butcher was a stubborn old guy who would only make roasts one size. That size was about an inch too long for my pan so I cut the end off.”
People are generally pretty good at killing off obsolete products and some legacy systems. Sometimes though, procedures and thought processes survive.
Wrong thinking is usually harmful. Be critical of old or received wisdom.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772