Plato’s Cave

Recently I have been listening to a podcast by Blindboy Boatclub of the the Rubberbandits. For anyone who doesn’t know them, they are an Irish rap duo famous for wearing plastic bags on their heads and singing songs about owning horses.


Blindboy has recently become famous for his views on psychology and politics. He will show up on various Irish talk shows wearing his bag and discussing issues with politicians on various subjects, mostly about the state of male mental health in Ireland.

You can find his podcast here:

If you don’t know him I highly recommend you check him out. His podcast is a wonderful listen and makes my Wednesday commute to work a delight.

Recently he was talking about something that made me think. He was talking about Plato and his allegory of the cave.

I had never heard of it before and maybe you haven’t either. So let me try explain it:

Imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from birth. They are chained in such a way that they can’t move their heads and can only look at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a walkway with a low wall. People can walk behind the wall hold puppets up above it so the puppets cast a shadow onto the wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners can only see the shadows in front of them and are not aware of what is happening behind them. The sounds of the people behind them echo off the walls in such a way that the prisoners think that the shadows in front of them are talking.

All these prisoners know is what they see in front of them. If they see a shadow of a book, they fully believe thats what a book looks like and their whole world is just 2d images. In reality of course a book is a 3d object, but they have never seen anything else so have no idea.


If we stop here for a moment, we could relate this to teams working in isolation. Now I think everyone realises at this point that its good to have multifunctional teams working together, testers, developers and BAs all work together for a common goal. But what can then happen is the team becomes the prisoners. Yes they are all working for a common goal, but they don’t know what the goal is, or why they are working on it. Their reality is just what they see and they may be afraid to question this. Or worse they may not know they can question it, thus working on something with zero value. 

But fear not Plato goes on to give us some hope. One of the prisoners escapes. That freed prisoner goes on to discover the truth about reality outside the cave. This however takes time and is painful as he has to relearn everything about his world. Eventually the prisoner goes back to the others to explain to them about reality. The bad news is it on his return to the cave to help free his fellow prisoners, they refuse to believe him.

This could be where you fit in. Maybe you are on a team much like our imprisoned cave dwellers. You could start to question your work and your teams goals. Much like the freed prisoners journey, this might prove to be difficult at first. You may have to learn some new skills, also your team mates might not believe you at first.

Unlike the cave prisoners though, you can help show how putting value first will help your team. You could even start this be sharing what your team works on with other teams. Maybe organise a showcase weekly or monthly, for a member of each team to share their work. This will allow everyone to have a better understanding of what each team does. Also make sure your team has a very clear goal that will make the company some money when complete.

There are loads of things that can be done to help find value in our work. Let me know how you get on trying some, or even some interesting ideas you might have.