Smart Thinking

The Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes is the quintessential ‘one size fits all’ Anti Pattern. How do you avoid being fitted to a metaphorical Procrustean Bed?

PROCRUSTES was a son of Poseidon and had a stronghold between Athens and Eleusis. He is famed for an unusual form of ‘hospitality’. He possessed an iron bed (the Bed of Procrustes) and would invite passers-by to spend the night. Those that proved ‘too tall’ would have any ‘surplus’ amputated, whilst those that were ‘too short’ would be ‘stretched’ to fit his bed. There was never an exact fit, as Procrustes secretly possessed two beds.

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Justice was eventually served when he was captured by Theseus and fitted to his own bed, with suitably gruesome consequences.

The Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes, Photo Credit Wikipedia

The Bed of Procrustes: The Anti Pattern Codified

Anti Pattern Name: The Bed of Procrustes

Type: Procurement / Product / Vendor Selection

Problem: The Bed of Procrustes is the quintessential ‘one size fits all’ Anti Pattern. It would be unfair to suggest that solution vendors of any hue possessed two metaphorical Procrustean Beds. There are however many case studies where amputated requirements or stretched systems and enterprises were lashed to inflexible iron frames.

Context: A wish to accelerate delivery can tempt the unwary to mistake a Procrustean Bed for the ‘last word in luxury’.

Forces: Solution cost, delivery timescales, pressure selling, lack of due diligence, short-termism.

Resulting Context: A poor and unaffordable fit that might cause permanent disfigurement, especially if you are ‘too tall’.

Solution(s): Understand solution scalability and lock-in ‘gotchas’. Procrustes did not warn his ‘guests’ of their fate and despite changes in consumer law, caveat emptor retains primacy over caveat venditor.

The Penguin Book of Classical Myths

Further Reading on Classical and Greek Mythology

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.