The current crisis we face has revealed lots of systemic and societal issues and inequalities, and lots of inadequacies in our thinking and how we’ve constructed our lives based on our mental models. One of the ideas we’ve built upon is that tight-coupling provides security, solidity and reliability. We’re starting to realise that the downsides of tight-coupling include over-reliance on structures and systems that by their very nature include single-points-of-failure, cascading failures, and knock-on effects.
Tight-coupling is the idea that the parts of that system should be dependent and reliant on the other parts. A business with a fixed supply chain that relies on a single supplier is tightly-coupled, and if that supplier fails then the business fails. A family with a single source of income from one person’s job is tightly-coupled, and if that employer fails then the family fails. A person with few or highly specialised skills needs an industry that requires those skills, and if that industry fails to need those skills then the person fails.
Loose-coupling comes from computer system design, and in our internet-era we should be considering how ideas that understand the nature of networks can be used in our mental models. Loose-coupling means that any part of the system can be replaced without disrupting the entire system. A business can quickly and easily swap suppliers, a family can shift to another income source, a person can make use of lots of different skills.
Now more than ever, as we think about what the future of our society, our economy, our businesses, and our lives look like, we should be avoiding building tightly coupled systems and convincing ourselves of the illusion of solidity that comes with it. Instead we should build loosely coupled systems that give us multiple routes through the networks, allow us to replace parts more easily, and are adaptable, flexible, and able to respond to changes and crisis.