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Evolution and the Search for Perfection in Design

Post #15

There's a story that the design of the Polynesian outrigger canoes evolved by a process of attrition. The canoes that didn't come back were not replicated. Those that did were copied and improved over time. Is the story true?

Well true or not there nothing surprising about it really. Attrition is a natural process by which all things evolve both in nature and in the man made world.

If we design a new race boat and it doesn't succeed then we don't replicate that particular design, at least not the parts of it that are deemed to be less than optimal. And nature is full of examples of plants and creatures that have had to evolve or suffer the fate of extinction.

Innovation implicitly incorporates imperfection. Producing things mechanically and repeatedly is tempting for limiting uncertainty and variability. But these mechanistic process also have the ability to inhibit evolution and innovation as we seek to monetize our investment in infrastructure, follow tried and true methodologies and promote predictability.

As Seth Godin notes in a recent blog post

"As soon as we mechanize, measure and perfect something, it becomes far less interesting. As we get better at industrialism, the variability of imperfection becomes even more fascinating."

The limited predictability of the wind and sea conditions are part of what makes our sailing experiences interesting. We have the freedom to choose predictability over being interesting in the boats we choose to sail. It would be lamentable if the craftsmanship, the human element that designs and builds our boats, and makes them all the more interesting, was to entirely give way to predictability.

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