Call me Trim Tab
This week I spent two days learning from Leyla Acaroglu during her Unschool Disruptive Design Workshop in Sydney. You might remember Leyla as the inspiration for the refrigerator piece in Week Two. As such, the last two pieces in this week’s dispatch are inspired by ideas captured during that workshop.
Buckminster Fuller is considered among the greatest designers and thinkers of the 20th century, and a great believer in the virtue of small interventions. Perhaps the most famous of his metaphors to describe the influence of small things on big systems is inscribed on his headstone at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The inscription reads »Call me Trim Tab«.
Fuller, who served in the U.S. Navy during WWI, observed how the trim tab (a small surface connected to the trailing edge of a ship’s rudder) was able to affect the course of an ocean liner with great ease.
In an interview for Playboy during 1972, Fuller responded to the question of how can we live with »a sense of the individual’s impotence to affect events, to improve or even influence our own welfare, let alone that of society,« with these words:
Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, »Call me Trim Tab.«
To that I say, call us all Trim Tabs.
Inspired by: Unschool: Disruptive Design Workshop