Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

What does Simon’s Travel Theorem Mean for your next trip?

Posted in Books, People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 3, 2008

Several threads are pointing me towards Herbert Simon’s book on decision theory, “Models of My Life“. A friend of mine who has created a documentary about Charles Moore has also made freely available his interview with Herbert Simon. What is driving me towards his book is its discussion of his Travel Theorem:

Anything that can be learned by a normal American adult on a trip to a foreign country (of less than one year’s duration) can be learned more quickly, cheaply, and easily by visiting the San Diego Public Library.

Of course, Simon wrote this before the web, let alone the Wikipedia. This is making me reconsider all site visits for my management consultancy research.

People react almost violently to my Travel Theorem. I try to explain that it has nothing to do with the pleasure of travel, but only with the efficiency of travel for learning. They don’t seem to hear my explanation; they remain outraged. They point out that I seem to be traveling all the time. Why shouldn’t other people travel too? After they simmer down enough to understand the theorem, they still attack it. It takes a long time to calm their passion with reason — and it usually isn’t extinguished, but temporarily subdued. Why, they think, argue with a madman?

So why bother making the trips? Of course, there are always the pleasures of travel, and Simon makes no attempt to deprive people of these. But I am now changing the focus of my trips to things I could never have found out from library, or the web. For example, I like to talk to the people who are hidden away, the ones who are so busy working that they do not respond to phone calls requests from management consultants. Those people will tell you truths that no library visit will get you.


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