Recently I grabbed a new book to read from the library. I read the title and thought it could be an interesting look at graphic design elements of big brands.
The book is called Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility, by David Butler. Instead of a basic overview or even an advanced look at design, the author takes a deep look at systems and explains the systematized elements of the Coca-Cola brand.
One section really jumped out at me as being beneficial in my study of business systems. He talks about modular systems. His example is Legos. Legos represent a system that is very flexible. We can use Legos to built many different things but the basics will remain the same.
All Legos are made of plastic, they connect the same way, and they all have the same basic colors. Yet their ability to create various patterns and structures makes them very flexible.
A modular system has elements that are static or fixed. But they also have an agility aspect that allows for change. You can build a Lego house and then decide to tear it down and try it again, without having to change the fixed elements.
This is very beneficial for business. The idea that we can design our business systems to have fixed elements but remain flexible allows us to leverage scale and agility.
Another example of a modular system is Agile project management. This approach, which has a fixed set of processes and ways to implement tasks, is designed to have quick, iterative enhancements rather than a long, drawn out approach. Instead of creating requirements and then passing the execution portion off to someone else, Agile allows the designer to be involved throughout the process to help determine the best way to proceed. This allows for flexibility, despite the fact that it relies on very specific processes to accomplish a goal.
Modular systems are incredibly beneficial. Whenever someone hears about process or systems and things about rigid, mindless robots, we have to shift the thinking to be more like Legos. We have to understand that the fixed points are necessary but the ultimate goal isn’t to mindlessly go through the steps to achieve a result. Because we could be working towards something that has actually changed and is no longer defined by the original parameters we set.
I found this to be true even with personal goals. That is why there has to be an element of flexibility. When we set a goal based on the outcome that we hope to reach we can start to get too caught up in sticking with a system that isn’t working. A far more effective approach is to set goals based the process that you hope to use to improve. Then you can adjust when necessary and continue to focus on the process and making progress.
In order to fully utilize systematic thinking we have to understand the benefits of modular systems. Most people agree that Legos are creative and that many different things could be built from Legos. But they would also agree that there isn’t much variation in the small, basic pieces. They are systematic, yet flexible.
In designing systems to improve and grow, make sure we don’t get too rigid in our approach. Do this by understanding the elements of modular systems and how to design systems that are both fixed and flexible, systems that both help us scale and remain agile.
Most of all understand that things change. Goals change, situations change, life changes. Being flexible is important but we can’t ignore systematic improvement because of constant change. We have to design our systems to incorporate this flexibility.