Cargo cult is the observation and replication of a practice, without understanding the underlying mechanisms, in the misplaced hope of obtaining the same results.
The original example is that of a tribe in pacific islands who observed air-drop of supplies to japanese and american armies, and later tried to imitate the radio headphones, and flag signals in hope to get "their ancestors" to drop supplies
Cargo-cult in the workplace takes forms when successful companies or workers use practices, that other try to imitate without understanding. Such examples include:
- methodologies, by simply trying to copy aspects of scrum such as short iterations and masses, without understanding the underlying goal of continuously delivering and adapting what is being delivered in order to deliver what is required rather than what was planned.
- architecture patterns, such as [[microservices]] envy, big-data, CRQS and event-based architectures, which are often adopted without understanding their limitations and risks because "trendy"
- general coding practices quoted as "best-practices", where people cannot justify why it is a best-practice further than "everyone else is doing it" or "it's a best-practice".
: There is a lot of cargo cult in the implementations of Agile and Scrum I have seen.
Implementation without understanding can lead to "We tried baseball and it didn't work"
: blog / when not to use microservices
With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised to bestow on their followers deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or other sources, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the military personnel use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses.
In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.
Oz Nova / You Are Not Google discusses several examples of cargo cult.