Softly Softly Catchee Monkey

You must not be led aside by fits of disinclination or annoyance; if you give way to these you will never succeed. Patience and perseverance win the day. "Softly, softly, catchee monkey." -- BadenPowell?

The ProcessPattern version:

Managers, Teachers, Parents, Users, Stakeholders and other Authority Figures seem to want it done right, done immediately, and never done again (DoItRightTheFirstTime). Of course you can't deliver on such expectations, and in fact most of these Authorities are just your own boojums - the real people behind them know that good work takes time. They're putting pressure on you because they want your best, not because they expect a miracle.

Now sometimes what these folk want is really not difficult to do. You know how to get from A to B, you get into that MentalStateCalledFlow, and you do it. But sometimes you haven't got the faintest, or you're damn certain what they're asking for isn't a realistic expectation, or it isn't the right thing at the right time.


Don't meet the insurmountable problem head on, but move slowly, deliberately, compassionately, to surround it. You don't catch your monkey by running into the jungle and trying to flush it out. Monkeys move faster in a jungle than you, and they can always climb and hide.

Step back. Get lazy. Ignore deadlines. Think. Research. Wander. Let the back-burners do some work. Panicking and rushing isn't going to solve a hard problem. Perhaps you're not doing the right thing at the right time. Perhaps there's some other way to balance the forces, or some forces you're neglecting. You won't find the solution by looking for it; it has to find you. Let it.

If you enter the jungle with due pace and caution, but with no idea in your head about catching a monkey, they won't see you as a predator coming. You just mind your business until you see a monkey. They'll be paying you no attention. Then calmly and deliberately notch your arrow and catch your dinner.

CategoryPattern | CategoryProcessPattern

Humans evolved their mapping and communication abilities precisely for this purpose.

Hmm, fascinating hypothesis, and very plausible as well. I'm convinced. -- RobHarwood

Ohmigod this is my life! -- JohnFarrell

Yes, don't let panic take over. It is quite possible to learn to relax while you work - pairs help with this - and then you go fast and softly at the same time. Worth learning! Of course you have to wait, sometimes. The trick is to learn to wait very fast. One ExtremeWay to do that is not to sit there with your thumb in your, um, mouth, but to sit down with a partner and write some code to throw away. --RonJeffries

Also a good thing to do. The main thing is to learn to do what it takes to get back into flow. --PeterMerel

Sounds a little bit like the issues discussed in Yourdon's book DeathMarch.
Sometimes I find that if I'm having problems with a piece of code, it's because I'm too focused. In this situation, I find it's best to step away from the screen and do something else. Maybe I'll go outside for a walk, maybe I'll just visit the coffee machine. Sometimes (rarely), I'll simply call it a day and go home. Five minutes away from the code, and all of a sudden the trees blend away and I can see the forest.

(isn't this one of the ObliqueStrategies? --DaveHoward)

The thing is this. As Peter says, you have to get back to flow. You can't do that when you're in fear. Peter suggests "resting" to get back to steady. The problem with resting is that it consumes time. Sometimes, if you're waiting for inspiration, it consumes lots of time. Meanwhile some tense but hard-working bastard will thrash around and find a solution, making you look like a lazy jerk.

So find a way to use work to reduce fear. That, if I get it, is what Beck and Cunningham are encouraging us to do with SpikeSolution and DoTheSimplestThingThatCouldPossiblyWork. Do something non-scary, learn from it. KnowledgeBanishesFear?. --RonJeffries

I agree with all that, except that SoftlySoftlyCatcheeMonkey isn't resting. It's not meeting the problem head on, but instead moving slowly, deliberately, compassionately, to surround it.

OK, I'll bite. What does the title of this page refer to? ---GlennVanderburg

From Scouting. BadenPowell? claimed he learned it in Ghana. He said, You must not be led aside by fits of disinclination or annoyance; if you give way to these you will never succeed. Patience and perseverance win the day. "Softly, softly, catchee monkey."

Which is interesting. He speaks of not being led aside by disinclination, he speaks of persevering. Not quite the same as sitting back, ignoring deadlines, and waiting for the muse. Perhaps BadenPowell?'s advice is being taken wrongly here. The good man wasn't talking about inaction as a form of action.

Could someone explain what "compassionately" means in the description of SoftlySoftlyCatcheeMonkey? On the face of it, there's nothing compassionate about tiring monkeys out and killing them. Maybe that's not the idea?
'Maybe you're trying to catch a monkey to give it a vaccine to prevent the spread of diseases.
Well, this is interesting. See, last time I was softly catching my monkey, some bozo went off and accused me of AnalysisParalysis. What's up? -- WaldenMathews

More concretely, what were you doing?

Counting the number of 'y's in "AnalysisParalysis", why? Just kidding! I was exploring a whole bunch of stuff that might bear on my solution, and waiting for some sort of Gestalt to form in my tiny pea brain. Waiting for that feeling of pending certainty, if you know what I mean.

Meantime, reversing out of that inspiring piece of Californian solitude to the brutally prosaic world of WhyClublet ... SoftlySoftlyCatcheeMonkey is the first page name I've tried to create on Why without knowing that the term was already a Wiki page. It's a strange feeling. I say "tried to create" because I got it wrong and called it SlowlySlowlyCatcheeMonkey. That got me thinking about what Freud and my subconscious were trying to tell me about the negative influence of the ubiquitous term WikiWiki. Wiki means "quickly" right? Hasn't the continual use of the double prefix WikiWiki here done much more damage to our shared psyche than we all realised? Hasn't WikiNow too often come to mean, for the RecentChangesJunkie, "now and if not now, more quickly than that"? All that Eastern perpetual now and detachment from the momentary stuff has been ... an enormous con. The clever tyranny of the WikiMaster begins to be revealed for what it is. They will indeed quickly master you. Strike back while there's still time with some apathy, some lack of concentration, some prevarication. Simply ask yourself the question WhyNow -- RichardDrake [was that wacky enough Walden?]

It's wacky enough all right, Richard, but now you're in trouble again. We'll have to ask you politely to remove this material to the WackyWackyWeb. By the way, I agree with all your points above. -- WaldenMathews

I'd just like to mention how much I like the term "feeling of pending certainty", above. --GarethMcCaughan

I take from this: DontPanic, TakeYourTime, DontRush?, but DontGetSideTracked? either.

"Shock the monkey" --PeterGabriel?


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