Modular vs Organic Development

How many times have you wanted to do something but don’t know where to start? You have a vision in your mind of what you want to achieve, but the details are yet to be completed. Fundamentally, you know it comes down to stringing together lots of smaller tasks and actions until they combine into what you visualized. The saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts’ comes to mind.

The trouble is, those smaller tasks and actions aren’t linear actions. You don’t do one, and then the next and then the next and so on. Each task matters in its own right and for some time is undertaken in isolation to the others. Each can be undertaken in parallel. Much like the individual branches of a tree lead back to the trunk, each task is undertaken from the leaves inwards towards the trunk. Only when the branches beginning to converge in the mass of the trunk does the vision begin to take shape.

I realise that the above is a counter intuitive approach to growth and building something. I mean, tree’s grow out of the ground right? The roots grow first and then the trunk and the branches and leaves are the last thing to grow. A house is built up from the foundations, each piece placed on top of the other.

I suppose the difference here is, one mode of growth is what can be called ‘organic growth’ and the other method is ‘modular growth’ or ‘mechanical growth’. I’m fully aware that these terms exist and there is much written on growth theories. I might not be using the words as per widely accepted definitions, but that’s not the point. Here I use the words as signposts for the theories under contemplation.

Organic growth is like the tree, one building block of life coming into existence after the others. Each proceeding block provides the means for the next block to come into existence. The same can be seen across all animal life.

Modular growth, however, is not linear. Each building block can be developed independent of the next. Each block does not rely on the existence of the other blocks for their construction. However, some broad appreciation of the other blocks should be kept in mind to ensure compatibility between blocks, otherwise when the time comes to combine them, you might find they do not connect, are incompatible, and your effort was wasted.

Therefore, for modular growth to be successful, there must be conscious oversight of the entire process. A master plan must exist. One must have in mind an entire vision, map a breakdown of the components of that vision, and foresee and plan how each component will combine together to establish the whole. Without planning, modules and components developed in isolation might not combine in a way that creates the vision. You might end up with something else. Potentially a big mess and wasted effort.

We mentioned the metaphor of building a house from the foundations earlier. The construction of houses is a good case study of the difference between linear realisation of a vision, and the modular development of a vision. See our post on this here.