How Modular Thinking Can Make Your Business More Adaptable

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Modularity, in all its forms, allows you to construct bigger, more complicated structures with interchangeable, flexible pieces. This concept makes DIY construction projects and certain creative endeavors much easier.

If you change your thinking and your workflows to become more modular, it can make your entire business more adaptable.

How do you approach this?

The Power of Modular Thinking

Let’s start by explaining why modular thinking is so powerful and why it lends itself to adaptability.

The basic idea is that thinking in modular components forces you to more concretely define what you’re trying to accomplish, as well as the discrete blocks that you’re building with. It encourages adaptability and flexibility because those modular pieces can be assembled in different ways.

As a simple example, consider building an outdoor kitchen. This is a physical construction project, so it’s easy to wrap our minds around. One of the easiest ways to approach building a custom outdoor kitchen is through modularity; instead of designing an entire kitchen from the ground up, you can instead choose to piece one together from established, modular components, like standalone islands, appliances with countertops, and cabinet sets. Once you have these modular building blocks in mind, you can quickly rule out certain possibilities, favor others, and mix and match them to see what type of kitchen you can ultimately build.

In some ways, modular thinking is limiting because it prevents you from thinking too abstractly or building something complicated without regard to its internal components. However, it’s an arguably indispensable tool for creative problem-solving, refinement, and growth for something as complex as business management.

Examples of Modular Thinking in Business

How can we apply modular thinking to business?

These are just a few examples:

  •       Individuals and teams. You can learn to see individuals and teams as modular components of the broader organization. You can learn to see people in terms of what role they serve and teams in terms of their relationship to the company as a whole. This way, you can more easily transition individuals into roles that are truly needed and eliminate roles that aren’t truly necessary to the functioning whole.
  •       Steps and processes. Similarly, you can apply modular thinking to steps and processes in your workflows. Each component needs to be considered individually and eliminated, replaced, upgraded, or supported based on its relationship to the process overall.
  •       Supplier and partner relationships. You can also think about your supplier and partner relationships as modular components. Each partner in your network is another module to be evaluated in terms of its relationships to other modules.

Modularity and Adaptability: Tips for Success

Modular thinking and adaptability go hand in hand; once you learn to see things in terms of modular components, you have a freer range of experimentation and a loser mindset of how those modular components can or should be assembled.

These tips can help you find even greater success in this area:

  •       Keep egos and personalities out of it. Egos and strong personalities can clash with modular thinking. If you think of any team, partner, or process that is indispensable simply because you’re the one who introduced it, you may not be able to make the necessary cuts to improve the business. Similarly, you can’t allow a module to exist simply because you like the person operating it.
  •       Define everything in concise terms. For modular thinking to work, you need to understand each module in your organization fully. That means you need to define everything in concise, straightforward terms. If you can’t explain why a certain module is necessary for your organization to function, perhaps you don’t truly need it.
  •       Document and map everything at multiple levels. You also need to be able to map out how different modules function together. While it’s important to consider them individually, you also need to understand these intricate relationships.
  •       Learn to see everything as impermanent. Treating your business as modular forces you to treat everything as impermanent. No single module is permanently and irrevocably necessary for your organization to thrive. With that in mind, you’ll be able to think much more flexibly and make more disruptive decisions.
  •       Encourage autonomy and experimentation. You can make your business more adaptable and help individual modules self-adjust by allowing your employees to be more autonomous and experimental in their work. As a bonus, autonomy is key for employee happiness, so it can help you improve retention as well.

If you can fully incorporate and embrace modular thinking in your business, your organization will become much more flexible and adaptable. In an era distinguished by robust competition across all industries, finding ways to differentiate your business is more important than ever.

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Becca Williams is a writer, editor, and small business owner. She writes a column for and many more major media outlets.