The parable of the boat builder…

Once upon a time there was a man who loved to build boats. Building boats takes a lot of space, and his apartment just wasn’t big enough. He went to a local warehouse and asked if he could rent some space to build a boat. They worked out an agreement. He would build boats and sell them to the burgeoning local sailing industry, and in exchange for 30% of the profit from the sales the warehouse would let him use the space for free during construction.

“One small caveat” said the warehouse owner, “we have final say on the distribution of your boats. We may suggest certain changes we think will help their marketability.”

The man agreed. Surely allowing some oversight would be no problem whatsover. He knew the local market, and he knew his boats would sell! He began drawing the designs that very day.

The man worked 12 hours a day for two weeks! Over 150 hours of work later he had the plans for the first boat. He went to the warehouse and began to lay the forms for the keel. As he was laying the forms one of the warehouse managers came by and looked at his plans.

“Looks great!” said the manager, “However I thought we were getting a sailboat, and this appears to be a small yacht! Our company has recently decided that we want to be ecologically sound, so we can’t really support powered boats. Redesign it as a sailboat and then you can start building it.”

The boat builder agreed, but he began to think that perhaps this oversight agreement may not be as simple as he thought. Throwing away his last two weeks of effort he began again, this time designing an eco-friendly sailboat.

Two weeks later, plans for the sailboat in hand, the boat builder once again began construction. He worked uninterrupted for 2 months, day in and day out, until after over 700 hours of hard labor he finally had his boat completed. It was a beautiful solid wood boat in natural hardwood color, with natural white cloth sails. After admiring his handiwork he went to tell the warehouse managers to have them begin looking for a buyer.

The warehouse managers looked at his boat and seemed suitably impressed. After a few moments though one of them spoke up. “It’s quite a beautiful boat, no doubt about it. In the last month however, we’ve decided to try to sell carbon-fiber racing boats, and we want people to think of these boats when they think of sailing! So before we try selling this boat you need to paint it bright red and change the sail for blue nylon. That should make it acceptable to the current market!”

The boat builder was astounded! A classic wooden boat with natural cloth sails and they wanted to make it look like plastic! He would have none of it, and he told this to the owners in no uncertain terms! The warehouse owners were firm though. Carbon-fiber racing boats were what people should be using, they said, and if he didn’t comply then they were not going to be able to sell his boat. The boat builder said that he was fine with that, and he would just take his boat and leave.

“Not so fast”, one of the owners responded, “you’ve been using our space without paying rent, and we’re due a portion of the value with the boat. If you don’t change it the way we want and sell it, then you can’t take it anywhere. There is no third option, this is our warehouse, and partly our boat.”

The boat builder agreed, there was nothing he could do. The owners went away and the boat builder sat and looked at his boat for a time. Then he went to his boat, puled out his lighter, lit the corner of sail, and walked from the building and never returned.

Where do you draw the line? ? Where should you? And what about the boating consumers and their ability to choose when the market is this controlled?

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not really for walled gardens, no matter how well decorated they are.

10 Replies to “The parable of the boat builder…”

  1. Libertarian is, I suppose, the correct term for the philosophy, so long as you stick to “maximize individual liberty in thought and action”.
    The question I have to ask though, is not about the heavy-handed control, which is indisputably fair as it was a condition of the deal. The random and inconsistent application thereof though…
    Would you willingly put yourself in his place? That’s my question.

  2. Of course I wouldn’t willingly put myself in his place, given that all of the details of the parable are absolutes. I do disagree with the extrapolations one can make from this parable, though. In fact, I hold issue with parables in general as a teaching vehicle altogether, unless they’re teaching basic morality to children. The problem with parables is that it becomes far too easy to make sweeping generalizations on specific topics using the parable itself as some kind of valid anecdotal evidence.

    For example, about a year ago, I received a chain email about a college economics class; you may have seen it yourself. This class has never been confirmed to exist, so I can only assume it to be a modern day parable. In this class, the students argued with the professor on the validity and viability of socialism. The professor decided to make a deal with the class by having socialistic grades: everyones grades would be averaged, and then everyone would get the average grade. They agreed.

    In the beginning, the poorer performing/lazy students were elated, as they were now getting higher grades than they worked for. However, the harder working/smarter students were angered at the poor returns on their work and ability. Over time, the harder working/smarter students stopped working as hard, since they continued to get continued diminishing returns on their work, and thus the average of the class diminished. In the end, the entire class failed, and it was the only time that professor had ever failed his entire class.

    There. I’ve just proved the fallibility and inviability of socialism. It can never be viable because of this story. Or at least, that’s what many people have taken away from this “parable.” To be fair, though, it is normally a story marketed as a true event.

    Instead, we apply a bit of reality to this situation. You and I both agree (I think) that socialism isn’t some big bad boogeyman, and for the most part is a misunderstood concept. Of course complete socialism won’t work in large scale economies. It certainly works for small chunks of an economy/society, though. Hell, maybe the above “parable” would have even turned out differently if the students had decided to help each other instead of being independent douchebags.

    Similarly, we apply reality to the parable of the boat builder. In the beginning, the boat builder (hereafter referred to as BB) had no means to do what he loved. Well, damn. Doesn’t that suck. So, he found a means through which he *could* do what he loved, although it came with a price and some caveats. Okay, sounds plausible. Now we get to the bits where he is basically told “change this shit or get the fuck out.” Initially, he complies, but further demands are placed on him, eventually to the point where he no longer feels it is worth it. We’ve now established that the world is unfair, and that sucks. We’ve also established that BB is a quitter with no vision.

    I have some advice for BB, now. First, tell the warehouse owner to screw off (in a sense). Insist that your boat will sell, and if it does not, offer some sort of compensation. Argue that they should let the market decide, and that you feel that the venture will succeed. Perhaps you’re even going to find a whole untapped market!

    Alternatively, or even if the above suggestion is ignored, suck it up and do as the man says. As it stands, you do not have the means to actually build a boat on your own, and you still stand to make 70% of the sale value of the boat. Given time, one of two options are available to you. First, you end up making enough money to buy your own boat making base of operations, thus all of your previous hard work paid off. Second, through continued sales of the boats in demand, you make a healthy profit for both parties involved and may eventually be able to renegotiate your contract, thus allowing you free creative license.

    Now that I’ve gone on a bit, let me try to bring it down. None of my above extrapolations are assumed or implied in BB’s parable. His world is static and absolute, as is the nature of parables. Thus, I conclude that the moral of the parable is as such: (1) The world sucks, so you may as well give up if you find any sort of obstacle in the pursuit of your dream, or (2) You can either suck it up and deal with the obstacles in your life, or you can turn your back on your dream and let them burn. Sounds like BB let his dreams burn with hardly a fight.

    I understand your stance on the maximization of liberty in thought and action. I tend to agree with them, until you run into some logical philosophical obstacles that need to be addressed, but this reply has gone on long enough already. My beef is the medium through which you’re advocating for such freedoms. Your ideals are too complex to be contained in such a simple story.

  3. The point of a parable is not to show an absolute situation and solution, but to get you to think about and consider an issue, possibly from a different perspective.
    However, there may be some things that are actually absolutes, and to focus on solutions to those may be approaching the situation from the wrong angle. Sometimes with parables you must consider the given, rather than attacking the world itself as fundamentally flawed. Clearly little red riding hood is a parable about strangers, not actual wolves. This is the point of the form. I think the fault is in my not making it unbelievable enough. This particular parable is too “real world” to put you into the proper mindset to focus on the message of the parable. This is merely poor writing on my part, and I shall consider the lesson.

    This parable is actually meant to be about the App Store and the ecosystem around it. “Burn it” is the only option for you if you have developed an app for the app store and it is rejected. (Sometimes parables do have absolutes!) There is no way to tell apple to “screw off” or renegotiate, so attacking the boat builder for being a loser with no vision or willpower is sort of the wrong tack. 🙂

  4. Ah. Given the specifics of your intention, the message is made clearer. However, please allow me to offer further criticisms.

    The dictionary definition, and thus the point, of a parable is to teach a moral or religious value. In your case, you were using a story of a specific event in a medium normally reserved for broad reaching moral and religious values with the intent of criticizing a significantly smaller target. In other words, you were attempting to kill a fly with a shotgun. Arguably though, the entire mentality behind the silliness at the app store warrants some kind of parable-like lesson-teaching story. I stand by my statement that your ideals are too complex to be contained in such a simple story. Given a life of it’s own and no explanation as to it’s meaning (as parables commonly are presented), I believe this one would get away from you. In my case, it already has, as the only broad reaching moral lessons I could find were the two that I stated above.

    I sympathize with your position on Apple’s decisions with their app store. However foolish it may be, it is still their prerogative as a private enterprise to act as they do. There are other mediums through which you may channel your creativity and talent of Apple will have none of it.

    Also, you do me considerable harm by insinuating that I thought that the *fable* of red riding hood taught us that we shouldn’t talk to wolves.

  5. I think the boat-builder was being a pretentious jerkoff. Why the fuck didn’t he just paint and re-rig this boat, sell it, and build the boat of his dreams on his own terms, later. Is there some rule that he can only build one boat? I just don’t see why he couldn’t honor the deal he made, and then take the profit, rent his own warehouse space, and build the next boat on his own terms.

  6. Big Frankie C :

    Josh, can you make the changed they asked you to, and then change it for version 2.0?

    Master of irony sir, master of irony.

    I really should edit it though to try and make it more clear. There is no other boatyard. There is no other way out. This shipyard owns the market completely. That seems to be the point I failed to make properly.

  7. Yeah, my first comment was before I read the other comments. Well, I guess you just need to develop something else. Ahh Apple. “Think different. ish.”