THURSDAY: The Darwin System


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I’M SURE I walked out of the Minister’s boardroom with a scowl on my face. People were clearly trying to avoid me. Some pretended to look the other way as if they hadn’t noticed me walk by. You probably want to know what I was all in knots about. In our weekly update on progress in staging the 2015 Pan Am Games, Minister Donaldson, God bless him, had suggested that people wanting to attend the opening ceremonies should be selected randomly rather than on a first-come basis. That would have been good to know two years ago or even last year but the Games were just months away. What was I going to do?

When I got back to the office, I picked up the phone to call our IT director. “Danny how are you? It’s your pal Brian!”

There was a long and painful pause. “What do you want?”

“I just got back from a Minister’s update meeting and he thought it would be great idea to randomly choose people to attend the opening ceremonies. Everyone at the update meeting was totally behind the idea so I thought you guys in IT could write a little program to makes it happen.”

“You tell the Minster he’s nuts. It will take 18 months to write the program, load the data and test it. Maybe we can cut some corners but 12 months is the absolute limit.”

“Gee thanks. Do you have any suggestions? I’m in a real pickle here.”

“Yeah, get yourself a monkey to pull names, maybe one of those hot shot kids working in the Minister’s office.”

Then I heard the line go dead. I began to slip into depression. Danny could be so abrasive but he was right about this stupid timeline. I began to spin stories in my mind for the Minister when I remembered the news story last year about Darwin the IKEA monkey. He was living in a primate sanctuary just outside the city. Maybe Danny’s suggestion had some merit. After all, radio stations have used zoo primates to make football game picks for NFL pools. Why not Pan Am tickets? I asked my assistant to set up a call with the director of the primate sanctuary, which took place the following morning. With a little arm-twisting and a promise to mention the sanctuary in press releases, the sanctuary director agreed to make Darwin available to our team.

The next week my team drove up to Sutherland, where the primate sanctuary is located, to implement our random selection process. Darwin was brought into a large room with handlers and my staff. The ticket requests were in boxes on one side of the room. Darwin selected a card from one of the boxes and brought it over to our table. One of my staff took the information from the card and put into a spreadsheet. One of the primate handlers gave Darwin a treat. This process continued through the day and over the next week with two other monkeys to back up Darwin when he fatigued until all 17,980 tickets available through the lottery system were accounted for. When we were done I thanked the sanctuary staff and headed back to the wilds of Queens Park.

The following week was another Minister’s update meeting. When the agenda got to the opening ceremonies the Minister looked my way. I responded as if it was a command performance, which in my mind it was. “Minister, I am pleased to report that in the past couple of weeks we had a new system designed to randomly select people from the pool of applicants to purchase tickets for the Pan Am Games opening ceremonies. We have dubbed it the Darwin System in recognition of the innovative algorithm designed to make the selections. On this flash drive that I have in my hand are the names and contact information for those people. With your permission Minister we will begin the process of contacting those lucky people and issue a press release to alert the media.”

“Well, I’m pleased to hear that you were able to pull this off so quickly. In particular, after you made such a fuss about timelines at the last update meeting. I’ve always believed that those IT people are all smoke and mirrors. Put their feet to the fire and they will miraculously create new systems in a matter of months if not weeks. I want a directive going out stating that the timeline for all new information systems for here on in will be three months. Great job Brian!”

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