The Design Principle of Small Pieces Loosely Joined

View on Amazon.comI haven’t talked about David Weinberger’s book Small Pieces Loosely Joined for some time now but I was reminded of it the other day when I was thinking about relationships. I can’t remember what I was watching or reading but it related to the fact that relationships that are somewhat flexible are usually stronger because of it. I mean I’ve always said personally that there needs to be some give and take in a relationship for it to be sustainable. If one side is doing all of the giving and the other is doing all the taking, then that relationship isn’t going to last very long. Now I realize why. Because it’s a very fixed and rigid relationship.

View on Amazon.comThat’s why I immediately thought about the two words “loosely joined” when I was absorbing this knowledge. Upon thinking of those two words though, other examples came to mind as well. For example, if you look at research into making buildings earthquake proof, a lot of it relates to small pieces loosely joined as well. The flexibility of the structure allows it to withstand the enormous shock waves that strike it. And in thinking about that, my thoughts immediately jumped to my latest post about the new design book I recently acquired entitled Universal Principals of Design.

View on Amazon.comOf course at that moment, I realized why I was thinking about the design book. Small pieces loosely joined is a design principle in itself and an excellent one at that. It embodies so many things. I mean if you read Getting Real by 37 Signals you’ll see this principle mirrored throughout it. Start small, simple, and loosely build in small stages. If you read any book on building community, such as Community Building on the Web by Amy Jo Kim, you’ll see it there as well. Start small, keep things loose so you can feel out your community, and let it grow slowly over time.

View on Amazon.comAnd even just today, I encountered another upcoming book that mirrors this principle one again called Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It by Cali and Jody. It relates to how typical work environments are basically killing us because of their rigidity. Cali and Jody have instead come up with an approach called ROWE (Results-Only Work Environments), whereby people in the company are given the freedom to do whatever they want as long as they achieve the results required of them. Again we’re talking about creating relationships that are “loosely joined” which in turn makes them stronger (i.e. a massive increase in worker productivity because of it).

I mean even if you look at articles relating to open source you’ll see these thoughts of creating loose environments mirrored as well. Take a look at these two quotes below from Paul Graham’s article on What Business Can Learn From Open Source and you’ll notice that they pretty much mirror Cali and Jody’s thoughts on what a flexible work environment should be.

Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

The other problem with pretend work is that it often looks better than real work. When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase– this is where ideas come from– and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy.

I know most people who do a lot of intensive problem solving know this as well. More often than not, those critical ideas that you come up with aren’t thought of in the boardroom or office but away from it when you’re doing something simple or mundane like taking a shower, walking the dog, or whatever. It’s one reason why a lot of creative companies often take their creative thinking outside of the office (i.e. local coffee shop, etc).

Anyways in closing up this post, I’d just like to thank David Weinberger for coming up with such a wonderful title for his book. It’s a design principle that I will refer to much more frequently now that I’m much more aware of it. Thanks David!