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  • Cindy Russell

Escape the Ordinary: Why We Need to Zigzag

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

I adore this picture. Perhaps it is because it relates to my inner gardener or my quest to do things differently. This is a Crinkle Crankle wall (I even love saying it) and you can find them in the UK. They were first designed by Dutch engineers in the mid 1600’s. I have never seen one, but the first time I saw a picture, I kept it. I came across it again recently in a blog post by David Snowden on designing for resilient systems.

Here’s the thing about these walls. They zigzag…and because they do, they are stronger, more resilient, more efficient, cost less, and are better environmentally.

A straight wall made of one brick is not sturdy. For it to be stable, it requires a two-brick depth and reinforcing posts at regular intervals. However, it does delineate the space very cleanly and is simple in design.

The wavy walls are more stable and use fewer bricks. Hard to believe isn’t it? They were also found to be advantageous in battles, as the waves separated the attacking forces, making it easier to defend the land. I don’t see that purpose being useful now a days, but you never know. The serpentine design (the alcoves) now enables the successful growth of fruit trees; an exapted feature.

Now, attempts to build these walls require some calculus knowledge. It’s not easy, and time needs to be spent figuring it out up front. Here’s a comment from someone who's tried:

“I am actually involved in a long-term experiment using this style of wall to boost fruit production in the highly unstable climate of Nebraska, USA. I will admit that the actual construction was the simplest bricklaying I have ever done, but proper layout beforehand was obscenely difficult. We ended up just chalking equidistant circles along a straight line to get a uniform wiggle. Was quite the learning experience.”

I have always been one who zig zags when thinking about things. In fact, even in building my business, I refuse to take a linear approach when I know so much is uncertain (a major consultancy flaw I have seen repeated time and time again). In making decisions, and helping others do so, I speak to a lot of people. Conversations and hearing multiple perspectives are important for decision making – and of course it depends on the nature of the problem (but that’s another post).

Think about conversations you have had in meetings when important decisions needed to be made. One type of meeting is when you are told of the decision, asked what you think knowing full well it won’t matter. People are either silent or ideas are quickly shot down to avoid any conversation. These types of meetings keep things “simple”. Like the straight wall, the end decision ends up taking more resources, is more expensive to implement, and remains a little more tenuous. It also doesn’t allow for growth or learning.

Then there is the meeting where ideas zigzag. You know the one; someone says something to challenge an idea or decision and the conversation gets steered in a new direction (I don’t mean the ones that go completely “off route” and never return to the topic at hand). These conversations become much more robust with ideas fueling other ideas, and people feeling increasingly safe to openly challenge each other to ensure things are thought through from varying perspectives. These are hard meetings to have and significant planning is often required, especially if one hasn’t done it before. But, in the end, the implementation of the decision is less costly, more efficient, and requires fewer resources. And, just like the Crinkle Crankle wall, the decision is better “defended”, more appealing, and better for the organization/business.

I prefer to zig zag. A little meandering might be harder, but it is worth it in the end.

Here's to escaping the ordinary.

Do you have stories about meetings you have experienced? I would love to hear/read about them and reference them in future blogs or podcasts. Do tell!


Dave Snowden, “Comfort and Resilience”

Jona Grinevičius and Denis Tymulis, “15 Pics Of Wavy Crinkle Crankle Garden Walls That Take Fewer Bricks To Build Than Straight Ones”

Thanks to BeazleBug for the comment.

Photo courtesy of Praxis builders



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