John le Carré is the best-selling author of numerous espionage novels published over many decades. In the preface to his autobiographical book, The Pigeon Tunnel, le Carré described something he observed while in his mid-teens that he still thinks about when writing most of his novels – the pigeon tunnels of Monte Carlo.
His father took him on a gambling spree to Monte Carlo where gentlemen shot live pigeons for sport at a club next to the casino. The pigeons were bred on the casino roof and when the time came, they were placed in small parallel tunnels that emerged in a row at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. After fluttering down the pitch-dark tunnels, they emerged and took to the sky as targets for sporting gentlemen awaiting them with their shotguns. Pigeons that survived did what pigeons do, “They returned to the place of their birth on the casino roof, where the same traps awaited them.”
The reason le Carré probably thinks about this experience in writing his novels is that it reflects a universal truth of sorts – the desire to return to the familiar, to the known, even if earlier results were not favorable. In content management and document-based workflow many people fall into the technical equivalent of the pigeon tunnel described by le Carré – they keep trying to make text-based tools perform consistent, scalable document unitization and classification. To a certain extent this is repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
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