I am a bit surprised that the word “modularity” is not used more. We talk a lot about “engagement” and “leverage” but not so much about modularity. Perhaps its time will come. But consider this — without modularity, connectivity sucks.
Why? Because we can only scale our connections with other people if they fit into broader patterns of communication. We use the quaint word “community” to describe this idea. But broader patterns of communication work because the various packets of input (vocabulary) fit into conversations or “threads”. That fit demands a certain amount of standardization — or modularity. With modularity, we gain more efficient focusing tools that empower us to build threads of learning. Losses in modular efficiency lead to more noise. Hmmm … we see a lot of that these days.
Can I come up with examples of modularity chit chat? Sure. I bumped into this today at Giga. Demick Harris writes about the trend towards using modular designs for data centers to increase performance. Using the chit chat in the article as a metaphor, two concepts offer some interest. They are (1) density and (2) ease of upgrade. One uses modular designs to achieve more density in order to get more out of input (BTW that is what web platforms are supposed to do). Strategies to build density give directions for innovation (planning installation of new modules for upgrading the system - threads). And in our example, you get a new priority — enhancing the capacity to cool the system down.
… (ebay’s director of data base centers) … has a two-word message for server vendors that want to win eBay’s business on future buildouts: liquid cooling. For servers, it’s like the difference between fanning yourself and jumping in a pool, and he says it will be necessary as his racks achieve more power density.
So how do we measure our capacity for modularity? What can we do to improve “fit” when we plug into networks? BTW, I am not talking about a borglike loss of individuality. Here is the image that we don’t like (from leadership in practice)
I agree that this is not the goal. We can be both unplugged (individuals) and plugged in as we choose. But we make a big mistake when we try to leverage unplugged communication styles after we have plugged in. In other words, we are smart enough to be able to think like individuals and master discipline in how we communicate in groups. And ironically, the better we are at communicating, the less borglike we need to be as a group to maintain coherence.
FOLLOW - Check out Joe Nocera’s article today about political messaging. For some time, the republican party in the US has engaged in a “sound bite” strategy to leverage its messages. Think of “birthers” or “death panels”. These are modular packets of input. And the modularity of their messaging has increased their political impact — in the short term. The problem is with the standards they use for connecting. Whether one agrees with the republicans or not, their standards are confining. This limits their shared vocabulary with the larger group (voters). With limited vocabulary, they end up distorting facts in order to get attention for “their issues”. Using my model, they get density (focus) but no upgrading (threads). And that is what Nocera, Krugman and others are complaining about. BTW, despite the upgrading problem (limited “truthiness”) this strategy still works until the pattern of distorting facts becomes an issue and/or they alienate a key community (like women). In the meantime, an unfortunate side effect is that it appears that conservatives are by nature more borglike than liberals. Nonsense.
2d FOLLOW - Branson argues that people are the key to Virgin’s great success. In other words, communicating is its core value proposition. A business model where modularity trumps technical expertise?