In his book The World Beyond Your Head Matthew Crawford talks about jigs literally and metaphorically.

A jig in carpentry is something to hold parts in place, such as aligning boards that need to be cut to the same length. Crawford uses the term more generally to describe labor-saving (or more importantly, thought-saving) techniques in other professions, such as a chef setting out ingredients in the order in which they need to be added. He then applies the idea of jigs even more generally to cultural institutions.

Jigs reduce options. A craftsman voluntarily restricts choices, not out of necessity, but in order to focus attention where it matters more. Novices may chafe at jigs because they can work without them. Experts are even more capable of working without jigs than novices, but are also more likely to appreciate their use.

Style guides, whether in journalism or in software development, are jigs. They limit freedom of expression in minor details, ideally directing creativity into more productive channels.

Automation is great, but there’s a limit to how much we can automate our work. People often seek out a consulting firm precisely because there’s something non-standard about their project [1]. There’s more opportunity for jigs than automation, especially when delegating work. If I could completely automate a task, there would be no need to delegate it. Giving someone a jig along with a task increases the chances of the delegation being successful.

Related posts

[1] In my previous career, I sat through a presentation by a huge consulting company that promised to build software completely adapted to our unique needs, software which they had also built for numerous previous clients. This would be something they’ve never built before and something they have built many times before. I could imagine a more nuanced presentation that clarified what would be new and what would not be, but this presentation was blatantly contradictory and completely unaware of the contradiction.

One thought on “Jigs

  1. “…such as a chef setting out ingredients in the order in which they need to be added…”

    I got serious about this technique during all that lockdown foolishness, and it took my cooking–and cleanup–to a whole new level.

Comments are closed.