Path Dependence

Path dependence is a pain, it keeps you coupled to legacy. It means inflexibility; inertia.

I have always taken pride in being willing to change my mind about things, even those I once held very dear. If there are sound reasons for such change I will, sometimes slowly, do so.

However, being a pain does not mean it should be ignored. It is a predicament, not a problem, and so we should pay great attention to path dependence: understand it in contexts, honour it.

An example

Let’s say I take on a garden in an old home. At one end are a row of leylandii, an awful tree by many measures: yew for the impatient. It grows fast, smells, and is an ineffective mulch being so acidic.

I look at the row and I see how they create shade in area where I want to grow crops; I think it is time for the bowsaw1. In the winter months, I cut down the leylandii and grub out the stumps.

Come April, with my crops in their no-longer-shaded bed, I look proudly over to find the stumps surrounded by small spired shoots, and what look like asparagus tips. My heart sinks. I know this plant intimately: it is horsetail, a highly invasive plant, almost impossible to get rid of. The leylandii I had so gleefully removed were providing a block against the horsetail: drying up the ground, shading it, and slowing greatly its spread. I had now gifted the horsetail its favourite habitat: wasteland.

In my haste, I ignored the path dependencies of this garden: I took away what appeared to me to be a poor design decision, only to find it was exactly the design this garden needed.

When we do not understand path dependence, when we ignore it, we will repeatedly fall foul.



Hand tools beat power tools.