Zen: Beaten Paths reveal human behavior

An Architect (civil) friend told me a story about working around human behavior  that has stuck with me over the years and influenced my practice as an Architect of information systems.

The story is about an architect who was looking for a solution to the persistent problem of people not using sidewalks no matter how convenient they were. Eventually the foot traffic wore out new paths on the landscape and would be an eyesore.This architect had an idea, he would build all of his buildings, but defer the sidewalks. He would just plant grass. 6 months later he would come back and put sidewalks down where all the beaten paths emerged. By doing this he put the paths in the places that emerged from unpredictable trends of human behavior. This was the failure of all his counterparts, they were trying to predict those trends, and often got it wrong.


The principle that I applied to my field of work is to leave interfaces and parts of information systems to the trends that emerge, rather than trying to dictate something that people wont use. The modern enterprise is a combination of policies, processes and services that have been designed top down, but they should meet grassroots movements and trends halfway, for maximum impact.

The story also carries a fashionable new big data lesson – if we can understand trends we can capitalize on actual human behaviour, rather than our inaccurate traditions of conjecture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s