how to get your ducks in a row - a short, silly parable about a duck

I live in a sunny and beach-abundant part of New Zealand called Nelson, but I travel to work (mostly in Wellington) a few days each week. Most weeks, when I'm home, my wife and I go for a nice long beach walk while the kids are at school and most normal people are at work.

This week, we met a duck on the beach.


He was just standing there, all on his lonesome.

I said, 'Hello Duck'

He said nothing.

So I took his photo and we continued our walk, and I started thinking about ducks and how we get them in a row.

If you've only got 1 duck, it's easy to get it in a row, coz it's only 1 duck.

If you've got two it's just as easy. Rows are good like that.

Introduce a 3rd, however, and it's a whole lot harder, unless the ducks are hanging from a hook in a Chinese restaurant, or made of plastic.


But, maybe, rather than killing the ducks, or using fake ducks, maybe its better to think more laterally (whatever that word actually means), change your goal, and line them up in a triangle.

In fact, rather than saying you've changed your mind, you can just say you're a lean startup and your experiments indicate you need to "pivot" and, so, there's no egg on face.

Introduce a 4th duck and your triangle is bit screwed (or, if you contract, "forth duck", you could say it's f'ucked).

Yes, of course, you could arrange them as a square, or a rectangle, but, honestly, there comes a point where, if you just keep pivoting all the time it starts to look like you're making things up as you go.

So, perhaps, rather than pivoting, you should try a little Taylorism.

You could glue your ducks' feet to the floor.

Or not.

Perhaps you could pop them in cages. Or cubicles.

So long as they get out of their cages for an hour each day you could claim they're free range and charge 30% more for their time  


Scaling ducks is tricky.

Why don't we try lining seagulls up in a row, instead?

Seagulls, you exclaim!  Surely seagulls are less controllable than ducks!  

Good luck with that.   



Yes, that's what I thought.

But ... well, look at this. 


It took me two hours to get these guys lined up. I had a bit of trouble with the 3 at the back, but, still, I'm rather proud of this.

But, back to ducks.

Clearly, the ducks aren't going to line themselves up as we scale, so, obviously, we're gonna need to employ folk to coordinate the ducks. And we'll need more meetings of course and over time we will undoubtedly need a Duck Resources (DR) department.

Maybe - if the ducks can do programming - we will invented a Scaled Agile Duck framework (SAD) and businesses can send some of their ducks on courses to learn how to get the other ducks lined up in a row. And other, more senior, ducks can go on courses to learn how to teach the first lot of ducks how to run the first lot of courses.  [And, someone could make a lot of money, if only they could figure out how to franchise that ...]

So I thought all these things then I turned and looked back at the duck.

And he seemed to look back at me.

I said to my wife. 'Can we go back and talk to the duck?'

'Why not?', she said. 

We went back to the duck, and he stood there patiently as I explained my thoughts on scaling ducks.

And then he spoke to me.

'What the fuck are you talking about, monkey boy?'

I said, 'Look, in my work, we talk about 'getting our ducks in a row', a lot, and when I saw you standing there I realised that was easy to do with just 1 or 2 ducks, but really tricky as you increase the number of ducks. That's all.'

'You want to know how to get lots of ducks in a row?'


'You reallllly want to know how to get your ducks in a row?'


He said, 'Will you pay me a lot of money if I tell you?'

I said, 'Sure!', because, like, wow, what ever he charged me, I was sure I wasn't the only person in the world who realllly wanted to know how to get their ducks in a row.  Maybe I could get rich.

He said, 'Nah. I won't charge you. I don't think you'd like the size of my bill.'  

And then he fell to the sand and started laughing and laughing and launching.  It took me a while, but by the time he'd gotten his breath back, I realised he'd just made a "duck bill" joke.

Then he stood up and said, 'Okay, follow me.'

So we did.

We walked up the beach, onto the road, then along the road, towards the airport.

He stopped when we reached a pond.

There was a bright orange traffic sign just in front of us, but it was facing awayso we couldn't see what was written on the other side.

He said, 'If you reallllly, realllllly, wanna get your ducks in a row, it's simple.  The secret is on the other side of this sign. Go on, take a look.'

So we walked past the sign then turned back to see what was written on it.

There were no words. Only a picture.


Mr Duck said, 'If you want to get a bunch of ducks lined up in a row, it's simple: give us someone to follow, then take us on an interesting journey.'

And then he flew away.  

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