Allemaal Artis

Tuesday, November 22nd, 02016 at 11:11 UTC

Friends of the company recently brought us back some of these beautiful block on their most recent trip to the Netherlands. It is a box of 40 painted wooden cubes. There are a handful of different patterns and you get several of each type along with an instructions sheet.

From that you can make a variety of animals. The concept is great, much like LEGO and other children’s toys, they don’t prescribe what you must do with them. They allow a universe of exploration, creation and experimentation. They literally have given you the building blocks and you can create new animals, plants, shapes and objects.

We’re really excited to have them in the office to play with. Given a set of constraints, 40 wooden blocks, the world of possibilities gets very big, very quickly.

If you wanted to create an animal with only two blocks you have 40 to choose from, so that’s C(n,r) of C(40,2). In combinatorics, you have 40!/(2!(40−2)!) = 780. There are 780 possible combinations of 40 blocks to choose from. But now that you have selected those two blocks, there are 36 different combinations you can arrange those given the 6 sides times 2 blocks (6×6) = 36. So that’s 780 block choices times 36 face choices = 28,080 different combinations to make a 2 block creature. That is an over simplification because this will have many duplicate combinations since the kit contains multiple identical blocks, but that’s still a big number for only a two block creature. If we take something larger like 10 blocks, that’s C(40,10) = 847,660,528 combinations of block choices. Then (6^10) for the face choices = 60,466,176. For a total combination of 5.125479067430093e16 (including duplicates).

As you can tell, the permutations and combinations grow extremely quickly!

It makes you really start to think about designing in systems rather than finished products. It might take more time and there might be some rough edges, but rather than designing or creating a finished product, what if we only created small parts which people put together? This is the Unix philosophy of loosely coupled architecture. You build lots of really well designed small building blocks that can be put together into something larger.

Sure, these wooden cube animals don’t look like their real counter parts, but we can make that leap to reality. There could make more blocks of different shapes and sizes with more colors, textures, and patterns, but then it gets over complicated and prescriptive. All these choices actually begin to limit play because we are funneled down to a goal of some very specific realistic animal. Given the limited shapes and colors and have to improvise and imagine which makes the possibilities every greater.

Having these around the office as a reminder when we work with other companies to think about their problems and issues in more of a Unix small block approach could be a useful start. Making quick iterations on ideas, shapes and forms then changing into a more specific style later.

Having worked with teams in the past, it is always a good start to any meeting to decide if the following conversation will be divergent or convergent. By the end of the discussion should we have more ideas or less? A set of small, loosely coupled ideas allows for a great way to be divergent. Everyone can work on quick permutations that we can all imagine the details and gather as many thoughts and ideas about. Later we can converge on a few or a single idea which can be taken into other methods to refine it away from the cubes into something more whole.

It isn’t an end product necessarily, but it can be a means to an end. Have this in your toolkit is useful.