Far, Far Away Land Syndrome

Life in Far, Far Away Land is so much better than here… I’ve been watching a lot of Shrek recently. I’ve also been attending seminars and learning about good practice through the medium of beautifully presented case studies.

For anyone not familiar with Shrek, it’s your classic fairy tale. Everything we need in a good story. Good verses evil, love and rejection, body swaps, setbacks, magic and eventual triumph when love conquerors all. Then everyone has a good old sing along. The closing songs in Shrek really are epic – I’m a believer! I could say that a fairy tale like Shrek has a lot in common with a few good practice case studies I’ve seen. But I don’t want to bust any bubbles. What I want to talk about is Far, Far Away Land.

I’m not really a believer… Far, Far Away Land seems to exist in most fairy tales, it might even be the mandatory opening sentence, “once upon a time in a land far, far away…” In Shrek, they hammer home the point that it exists, and it really is much better than wherever you are. The place you need to be at, or at the very least the place you need to aspire to being at.

Far, Far Away Land Syndrome diagnosis is along the lines of: the further away a person, object or practice exists from your current position, the more desirable it appears*.

This is where I start to wonder about those good practice case studies at the seminars. Are they just an extension of the fairy tales many of us a have been brought up on? An extension into adult life where we are seeking a ‘perfect solution, from a perfect place, with perfect people’ from Far, Far Away Land?

There are plenty examples in the everyday workplace you might be familiar with. Please feel free to think of your own. Here are a few that trigger my ‘I’m a Donkey on the edge’ response;

  • Case Studies: Anything from the Nordics or New Zealand goes down well in Wales. They are definitely from Far, Far Away and almost anything, no matter how tangential, will get a welcoming smile of approval.
  • Procurement: Particularly when it comes to buying in consultancy advice. A sniff of one of the big US organisations and people think you are chocolate.
  • Recruitment: Don’t get me started on the bedazzlement that comes with “ooohh look, they’ve worked in London…”

Is this just a Welsh thing? I used to worry that Far, Far Away Land Syndrome is a peculiarly Welsh thing. After a bit of modest research (asking my friends) I’ve concluded it’s far more widespread and may actually be a close cousin of Silver Bullet Syndrome. That desire to find the ‘one shot’ solution that will magically solve your problems. There might be a shared woodland path back to a childhood of listening to fairy tales? I wrote about it here in The Life Cycle of a Silver Bullet, and I re-read it occasionally to remind myself that, “if something looks like it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.

West is Best. Just to confirm that Far, Far Away Land Syndrome isn’t a peculiarly Welsh thing I decided to have a wider look around, and cast both my eyes west, to where EVERYTHING is Best!

What I encountered (very occasionally) is the opposite of Far, Far Away Land Syndrome… Not Invented Here Syndrome (NIH). NIH Syndrome appears to be a recognised thing, with a wikipedia entry and everything. NIH actually exists everywhere, now I know what I’m looking at.

The basic idea behind NIH Syndrome is that people have a bias against ideas that come from outside their organisation, group or community. You may have observed it in a work setting? This can extend beyond ideas to things like physical products, services or sports teams. It can be motivated by objectives like trying to stimulate the local economy, that might have good ethical reasons. Or NIH might be driven by not so good reasons like jealousy, disputes, defensiveness or a general dislike of unfamiliar things. NIH is complicated.

It’s all wrong. The bottom line is that both Far, Far Away Land Syndrome and NIH used to the extreme and for the wrong reasons are damaging.

Looking and learning from things from Far, Far Away land is useful but don’t assume things from far away are always better. More importantly, don’t think you can just pick things up and plant them back at home. The NIH approach can have some usefulness, if used sparingly and for the right reasons. But if used in excess, you’ll probably end up unloved, and living in a swamp, ‘all alone and by myself’ (to misquote Donkey from Shrek). Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Far, Far Away Land Syndrome might be ‘hard wired’ into us from growing up on Fairy Tales. But the perfect solution from far away might just be a Fairy Tale the closer you get to it.
  2. Silver Bullet Solutions and Far, Far Away Land Syndrome are close cousins. The desire to have a magical solution that solves everything.
  3. Not Invented Here might be the opposite of Far, Far Away Syndrome, but that doesn’t mean it is right. What we need is more of a Goldilocks Approach (you know what I mean…)
  4. Question. Why is there no Goldilocks in Shrek? Seriously.

Acknowledgement* Thank you to Sion Charles and Matt Wyatt for sparking my interest in Far, Far Away Land Syndrome. They might not have used those exact words, but it was definitely the sentiment.

Update: Matt has reminded me of this post ‘Alaskan Deja Vu’, which is a lovely example of something else that we experience in Wales, IBWIH, It Bloody Was Invented Here, pronounced (eee-oob-hi). Which reminds me, I’ve always wondered where the inspiration for General Grievous in Star Wars came from. I’ll stick my neck out and say the Mari Lwyd, part of traditional Welsh Christmas and New Year celebrations, is a fair contender. Horses skull on poles and a sheet, draw your own conclusions, IBWIH.


About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

3 Responses

  1. Believe or not, there was a rights issue over Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood, which is why you get the bears and the wolf in Shrek. I find that when it comes to Wales we should be more appreciative of IWBIH (eee-oob-hi) It Bloody Was Invented Here, but I have a feeling that the Far Far Away thing is even more prevalent that you think.

    It’s just that the usual floggers of distant success are peddled around the world, having spent little or no time considering whether or not they actually invented the thing they are flogging or just added some marketing and set it off for another round. That’s our friend Pascale.

    Forget organisational memory, as a global society we seem to pay far too little respect to History, which is why we keep getting newbies on the silver bullet hunt. Sorry to promote my own ramblings amongst yours but I think most of this lark comes down to – we already do that here but just don’t bang on about it – there’s a new management acronym in there somewhere, to be taught in next year’s dredge for MBAs. Bloody lovely brain rambling again!

    Alaskan Déjà vu

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