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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

The Broken Window Theory



I'm a big proponent of having an orderly routine, a planned day and week, of leading an organized life. And most of the literature that you come across about productivity also focuses on precisely these aspects. And it won't come as a surprise when you understand the broken window theory.

The original theory states that maintaining urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism or public drinking will help to create an atmosphere of order. And most importantly, will prevent more serious crimes from happening.

For an example, crime rate in New York in the 1990's went down by 56% as compared to 28% in the rest of America. This is a huge difference. And how did this happen? This was a consequence of the New York police clamping down on little crimes and strictly enforcing the smaller rules. To quote the then mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani:
"Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other."
The broken window theory plays an active part in many areas of life, in defining the culture at a company, in defining the way products are built.

It is easy to think that there is no need to plan my days, and yet end up achieving the things I want. But without the framework of a plan, I am much more likely to tolerate deviations like spending more time on social media and email, or going out often, or watching a lot of TV shows. And the deviations are all part of the same continuum.

If you want a better culture at your company, do not tolerate the little deviations that people make. If you want to build an awesome product, do not tolerate minor bugs and usability issues. If you want a healthier lifestyle, do not tolerate the little cheat days now and then.

When one window is broken and you tolerate it, it is easier to tolerate the next broken window and the next. It seems like such a small incremental thing. But take it as a whole over time and you will see a wrecked house.

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