Lego is more than a toy. It is a modeling concept. With modular fit guaranteed, one can easily build complex structures. I think of this as an architectural idea that will be applied more and more beyond the bricks and mortar area. In fact, any thing that can be designed can be designed to be more modular.
A key example is in software design. In the old days, one either bought a software programme off the shelf or had it custom made. The first option was easy but expensive. And the product tended to have a huge number of unwieldy bells and whistles that designers attached in order to appeal to the broadest possible user base. As a result, the product was usually not very good at what you wanted it to do. On the other hand, buying a custom made programme was a slow process and even more expensive. And while you could control the design, you often got a buggy Frankenstein mess of a product. Trust me on this one. I have been there.
Now we have API’s. These add functionality to a larger system and can be added or taken away without problem. They are modular components. While we tend to think of API’s in the mobile phone and tablet markets … drum roll please … we will soon see them take over the enterprise software market as well. Antony Falco for Giga has the story. This is the “composable enterprise” revolution and it is happening now.
But let’s not stop here. Our communication will become more modular as well. In the old days, if you were infuriated by something you read in the newspaper, you might write a letter to the editor. And you had a chance (albeit a slim one) that it might get published in the future in a section that few people actually read. More recently, we can insert comments immediately after a digital article or a blog post and see them appear within seconds in the thread of comments. Presto! And we can join in threads of conversation using any number of different platforms. This is not the end point. We will see more and better tools to build modularity into our communications. The key point here is that the value of our input is in how it fits in and adds to a larger structure.
We will also see this in project architecture. In the old days, projects tended to exist on their own. You got duplication and waste. As the Heath Bros. point out, one can break down larger projects into phases and develop more creative options per phase by multitracking.
And we will see this in career architecture. As I posted the other day, as time goes on, it will be more important how your skill sits fit into teams than what job titles you have had in order to find career success.
I think we will also see this in the evolution of business models. Open innovation (a model that focuses on partnering) is just the start. Soon we will be less interested in a “business plan” (a one off proposal that lays out the design of a new single entity) than shaping “business ecology” (the logic that moves markets into next phases). Anticipating and causing disruption will be part of planning to take markets to next steps.
Here is the core idea. In the old days, we cherished our uniqueness. We all wanted to go our own ways. That is how I grew up, and it is fine. But an unintended side effect was to downplay how well we can connect to people and ideas. We were just too busy “doing our own things” or as I discussed in the post below “following our bliss”. Connectivity in the 21st century framework is everything. And so while we still value our individuality, we will learn how to build modularity into everything we do.
FOLLOW UP - One more thought about “disruption”. When the word first appeared in media, it signaled something out of the ordinary. Like an earthquake. As Greg points out, disruption is simply a network effect. And as networks become more empowered (more modular) we will see more disruption. With more experience, we will get better at anticipating where disruption will occur, managing it, and benefiting from it. Let’s see how this plays out.