Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis
The Poor Spider and the Rich Snake

A long time ago in a remote village, there came a great famine that put every inhabitant of the village at risk of starvation and even worse, death. Ananse, the wise spider, had managed to ration out the little food he had with his family and his food stock was fast depleting. Every morning the wise spider would visit friends and families north, south, east and west just to see if anyone had found a solution to the famine problem. There, however, was the snake who had stored up so many potatoes that he loaned some to the villagers.

The only problem with borrowing from Snake was that on the last day in which the last borrowed potato was eaten, Snake visited the borrower at the borrower’s house and immediately bit him or her upon finishing the last potato. No borrower was known to have survived Snake’s bite. A few families had sacrificed some of their members for Snake’s potatoes just so the families could survive. Borrowing from Snake was the very dreadful last resort.

One day, the wise spider’s family finally ran out of food. He decided he had no other alternative, so he went to Snake’s house and borrowed some of Snake’s potatoes. Before the Spider left Snake’s house, Snake reminded the spider of the loan terms. Spider agreed to the terms. On the very day the Spider family consumes the last potato; Snake will visit them and bite Mr. Spider.

Although it took many months for Spider’s family to consume the borrowed potatoes, Snake never forgot about his loan. On the very day the last tuber of potato was to be eaten by the Spider family, Snake visited them. Unlike many previous debtors of Snake, Spider appeared very courteous and affable to Snake despite the fact that he was busy that day. Spider had taken off the roof of his kitchen and was in the process of replacing it when Snake arrived. Snake felt so welcome at Spider’s house.

Spider quickly ordered his eldest child to cook the last potato so they wouldn't waste Snake’s time. The eldest child quickly obliged and did exactly as his father had instructed, “First, peel off the potato, chop it into smaller pieces and put them in a cooking pot that you will not cover while on the fire.”

Spider quickly climbed up to the roof of his house and while pretending to be roofing the kitchen, used a long stick to draw up all the pieces of potatoes from the cooking pot and ate them. Afterwards he climbed down and went to keep his guest, Snake, company. Before long, his eldest son came rushing in with disbelief, “the cooking pot is empty, all that is left in it is just water, someone has sneaked into the kitchen and eaten the potatoes while they were cooking!” Spider became alarmed and appeared furious. He quickly summoned all of his 15 children together and asked who ever ate the potatoes to own up. All the children, as usual, denied it, so the Spider thought of a plan.

He went deep into his inner room and brought out a knife, “a magical knife” he told them. He explained to them that the magical knife could tell who ate the missing potato. All the children had to do was put their hand on a piece of log he provided and declare ‘not guilty’ at which time their father would chop off their arm. The knife would however, not cut anyone who told the truth and was in fact not guilty.

Snake patiently waited for all 15 children to go through the ordeal. No one was harmed; Mr. Spider had deliberately used the blunt side of the knife on his children. Snake started feeling guilty because the magic knife had exonerated every creature in the house. Snake felt silent pressure to subject himself to the test just so his host would not think he, the Snake, ate the potatoes.

The Spider pretentiously, talked Snake into not subjecting himself to the test, but Snake had already decided, he would feel too guilty not to go through the exoneration process. The problem however, was that Snake had no limbs and so he had to put his neck on the log. Snake happily put his neck on the log and the wise spider went into action, wasting no time separating Snake’s head from the rest of his body with the ‘magic’ knife. Snake was dead, Spider was free, and Snake who had no family, had plenty of potatoes left in his house. The Spider family suddenly, had more than enough to eat!

Moral: In systems analysis, solving one problem most often creates another problem that sooner or later must be dealt with. Therefore it is important for systems analysts to consider how expected and unintended consequences of their solutions must be dealt with. Rushing to come up with a solution without thinking through its unintended consequences can create more serious problems than initially existed.

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.