|The Egyptian Farmer
How Does Growing Corn in Ancient Egypt
Relate to the Modern Business World
by Mike Bailey
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Keep it Simple, Make it Fun
Mike Bailey, 1967
On a warm, clear summer day in 21 AD:
Marcus Octavian, Captain of the Palace Guard, raced down the dusty road in his chariot alongside
the Nile River near the ancient city of Memphis. It was his job to check on all the farmers who grew
corn along the river -- corn for the Pharaohs for thousands of years and now for the Roman Empire
as it now ruled all of Egypt.
Ahead of him on a bluff overlooking the Nile River 20 feet below him stood Horus, the most skilled
and successful farmer in the Lower Nile region of Egypt. Marcus greeted Horus and inquired how
the growing season for this year’s crop was coming along. Both men knew all to well that if the crop
was bad, the Emperor would be upset and that was not good for anyone.
Horus oversaw three fields that bordered the Nile and together, they covered roughly a hundred
acres -- spread out in narrow but very long areas of cultivation by the river. He told Marcus he had
an idea about how to get more water up from the Nile and delivered to his fields
Since it was all done by hand now –- by using an ancient device called a shaduf to fill buckets and
then lifting them up with the counter balanced lifting arm and swinging the filled bucket around to
the plants and slowly delivering the water to the thirsty corn stalks –- he figured if his new device
worked, he could double, maybe even triple his corn harvests.
Both men realized that if that were true, the ruling Emperor would be most pleased. Everyone
already knew that Horus grew the best corn in Egypt and to be able to have more of it at harvest
time would be a feat worthy of great rewards.
Horus’s idea was a refined design of the noria –- a huge waterwheel device that used pottery jars to
collect the water and lift it as the wheel turned. He figured, why not cut the tops off the jars
which would allow them to fill quicker and empty out quicker. His first device doubled his water
draw from the river and within a few years, his farm acreage increased ten fold.
He was happy, the Emperor was happy, and so was his friend Marcus who made sure all the other
farmers used this new tool.
Spring forwards now in time to the spring of 2016:
Jabari, an official with the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture drove his beat up Range Rover along
that very same dusty road that his ancestor Marcus had traveled all those hundreds of years ago.
Within minutes, he arrived at the very same bluff overlooking the Nile River where Horus had
struggled with his waterwheel all those years ago while trying to grow lots of corn for a very
Getting out of his official Ministry of Agriculture vehicle, Jabari approached a man standing by a
very large and complex looking water distribution installation. Hasani, his long time friend from the
same village nearby that they grew up in, waved at him and pressed a large red button on a control
board mounted under a protective awning.
Within seconds, both men listened to the huge electrical pump motors wind up and watched with
satisfaction as 10s of thousands of gallons of water from the Nile River down below started rushing
through all the miles of pipelines that covered the thousands and thousands of acres of corn fields
that surround them for a far as the eye could see. Soon the sprinklers and drip lines were delivering
life giving water to the all the plants growing in the bight sunshine.
They stood there and watched a lighted diagram on a display panel of the pipe lines change color
from blank to blue indiciating that water was flowing to all distributon points. Real simple, nothing
fancy -- telling them with just one quick look that water was reaching all the corn plants.
Hasani, a direct blood line descendant of Horus smiled and remarked to Jabari that this pumping
solution was a far cry better than the one his ancestor had used. They both laughed and Jabari
pointed out about how it was done before the shaduf -– the workers had to scramble up and down
the banks of the Nile carrying one bucket of water at a time! They both agreed that this was far
better and that they were blessed with ever bountiful harvests of the best corn in Egypt.
The moral of the story –- it was never about how to grow the corn but how to get more water to
Hasani, Horus, and all those before them had long figured out how to best grow the corn. It was a
simple process -– good seeds, planted in fertile soil, tended for bugs and weeds, and given warm
sunshine and water to sustain life and the rest was left in the hands of God.
How simple can it be they thought –- the process had worked for thousands of years? The only real
problem they had ever had over time was trying to figure out how to get ample water to the corn so
that it could grow well.
God had worked out the basic solution, process if you prefer, of growing the corn and that process,
that procedure, that effort, that solution if you will, did not need to be changed.
Could things be done to assist or simplify the component parts? Of course they could and all these
were done over thousands of years to refine and solidify the original process.
Keep in mind that since the very simple task of how to grow and harvest corn had long been solved,
all that was ever absolutely needed since day one was ways to get water to all the plants.
No water -- no corn -- it was as simple as that.
How then, does this story relate to the modern business world?
For one thing, it proves that the age old rule of “Keep it simple, make it fun” has merit and benefits.
Too many times in our business world today, especially in those areas that are controlled or
managed by computers and computer programs, etc., there is a tendency to over regulate/manage
Sometimes this is done to the point that the original process, function or desire is so obscured or
detuned to the point that it performs below or less efficient than its predecessor.
And what makes that the most dangerous or damaging attribute is it was done (regulated/managed)
all because “it could be done,” that is, someone like a system programmer/developer might say, “If
I use all the programming functions and optional attachments listed in the reference manual that I
hold in my creative hands, this thing will dazzle the masses and my boss will think that I am a genius.”
What this means is that in a lot of fairly simple processes that might be needed or required for our
business, too many unnecessary and complex additives (options, features, etc.) are added to a simple
process to make it look like, sound like, “Wow –- I’m a complicated looking process and therefore, I
must be important and needed!”
For example, all a modern day need might be is a simple process to turn a coffee pot on at 5 a.m.
and signal you with a beeping alarm if it detects a problem doing that -- like sensing that no
water was added to the coffee maker’s reservoir -- and finally, a tiny beep at the end of the brew
cycle to signal that the coffee has been made.
This was similar to the original problem the Egyptians had, that is, all they wanted was some water
to be delivered to their plants so they would grow and someone to holler out if the water
However, just because they "could do it," our modern day creative developers decided to have
additional lighted buttons on the coffee maker so that you could press one and find out what
the square root was of the total gram weight of the coffee placed in the strainer basket and one
that launches into a jazzy rendition of the "Grand Ole Flag" while telling you it is 61 degrees
outside in Bombay, India, the sun is behind clouds, Mars is passing by Jupiter at 3:30 p.m., and the
Greyhound bus from Reno will be 21 minutes late today.
Neither Hasani nor Horus would have approved of these unnecessary additional features.
Why? Because they had nothing to do with a simple warning alarm that would tell someone
when they forgot to add water to the coffee pot and one to tell them that the coffee has brewed
and it was time for a needed coffee break!
As Leroy Jethro Gibbs would say on NCIS ... "Rule 96 -- keep it simple, make it fun!"