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Design Rules: The Power of Modularity [Hardcover]

Carliss Y. Baldwin , Kim B. Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 2 2000

We live in a dynamic economic and commerical world, surrounded by objects of remarkable complexity and power. In many industries, changes in products and technologies have brought with them new kinds of firms and forms of organization. We are discovering news ways of structuring work, of bringing buyers and sellers together, and of creating and using market information. Although our fast-moving economy often seems to be outside of our influence or control, human beings create the things that create the market forces. Devices, software programs, production processes, contracts, firms, and markets are all the fruit of purposeful action: they are designed.Using the computer industry as an example, Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark develop a powerful theory of design and industrial evolution. They argue that the industry has experienced previously unimaginable levels of innovation and growth because it embraced the concept of modularity, building complex products from smaller subsystems that can be designed independently yet function together as a whole. Modularity freed designers to experiment with different approaches, as long as they obeyed the established design rules. Drawing upon the literatures of industrial organization, real options, and computer architecture, the authors provide insight into the forces of change that drive today's economy.


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About the Author

Carliss Y. Baldwin is Senior Associate Dean and William L. White Professor of Business Administration and Kim B. Clark is Dean of the Faculty and Harry E. Figgie, Jr., Professor of Business Administration, both at Harvard Business School.

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
This is an important book. John Holland, who is heavily referenced, foreshadowed its publication when he linked the concepts of real options and complex adaptive systems in a talk at the Santa Fe Institute in late 1998.
The authors clearly and persuasively explain how modular design adds a tremendous amount of value through the creation of real options. Furthermore, modularity allows for the evolution of both design and industry.
In the 1960's, IBM created the System/360, the first modular family of computers. As a result, IBM launched an industry -- and lost control over the tremendous value it stimulated.
"Design Rules" was recommended me by one of the authors' colleagues, who thought that I'd "eat it up." I did, and I'm hungry for Volume 2.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A window into the "new economy" April 3 2000
Format:Hardcover
Opening the "black box" of technological and industrial progress, Baldwin and Clark introduce the notion that technology is a set of tasks and the organization mirrors the design of the artifact that it produces.
The authors model builds upon the work of John Holland, Stuart Kauffman and Brian Arthur (from the Santa Fe institute) on Complex Adaptive systems (CAS). CAS have four properties:
1. Each of these systems is a network of many agents acting in parallel. The control of these agents is highly dispersed.
2. The CAS has many levels of organization, with agents at any one level serving as the building blocks for agents at the higher level. Furthermore, CAS are constantly revising and rearranging their building blocks as they gain experience. Baldwin and Clark carefully document four layers operating in the computer industry, The global financial system, the markets for goods and labor, organizations, and the design and production of computers. In Addition, the authors describe the six "modular operators", the complete set of options that can be used by agents to modify the system that can be used at any level.
3. All CAS anticipate the future. The various models, whether implicit or explicit assumptions, are constantly tested, refined and rearranged as the system gains experience. Baldwin and Clark assume that designers "see and seek" value, with value being measure in the global financial system.
4. CAS typically have many niches, each one exploited by an agent adapted to fill that niche. Moreover, the very act of filling a niche opens up new more niches. Thus, there is no equilibrium in these models, it is not about a "punctuated equilibrium".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A window into the "new economy" April 3 2000
By Richard J Bergin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Opening the "black box" of technological and industrial progress, Baldwin and Clark introduce the notion that technology is a set of tasks and the organization mirrors the design of the artifact that it produces.
The authors model builds upon the work of John Holland, Stuart Kauffman and Brian Arthur (from the Santa Fe institute) on Complex Adaptive systems (CAS). CAS have four properties:
1. Each of these systems is a network of many agents acting in parallel. The control of these agents is highly dispersed.
2. The CAS has many levels of organization, with agents at any one level serving as the building blocks for agents at the higher level. Furthermore, CAS are constantly revising and rearranging their building blocks as they gain experience. Baldwin and Clark carefully document four layers operating in the computer industry, The global financial system, the markets for goods and labor, organizations, and the design and production of computers. In Addition, the authors describe the six "modular operators", the complete set of options that can be used by agents to modify the system that can be used at any level.
3. All CAS anticipate the future. The various models, whether implicit or explicit assumptions, are constantly tested, refined and rearranged as the system gains experience. Baldwin and Clark assume that designers "see and seek" value, with value being measure in the global financial system.
4. CAS typically have many niches, each one exploited by an agent adapted to fill that niche. Moreover, the very act of filling a niche opens up new more niches. Thus, there is no equilibrium in these models, it is not about a "punctuated equilibrium". The process is a constant search for an improved fit with the environment. Moreover, the clock speed of the process should match the environment.
This book has deep implications for practitioners and scholars interested in understanding the "new" economy. I highly recommend the text.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant Integration of Real Options and Complexity Thinking April 8 2000
By W. David Bayless - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an important book. John Holland, who is heavily referenced, foreshadowed its publication when he linked the concepts of real options and complex adaptive systems in a talk at the Santa Fe Institute in late 1998.
The authors clearly and persuasively explain how modular design adds a tremendous amount of value through the creation of real options. Furthermore, modularity allows for the evolution of both design and industry.
In the 1960's, IBM created the System/360, the first modular family of computers. As a result, IBM launched an industry -- and lost control over the tremendous value it stimulated.
"Design Rules" was recommended me by one of the authors' colleagues, who thought that I'd "eat it up." I did, and I'm hungry for Volume 2.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundational May 22 2009
By Steven Forth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most useful and practical business books I have read. At my companies we apply it at two levels.

We use the modularization rules in the design of systems and businesses. These rules (i) define what is needed to modularize a system - interfaces, communication rules, aggregation rules and (ii) a set of operators that can be used to evolve modular systems. It is best practice to design all of these (interfaces, communication rules and data exchange, aggregation and disaggregation rules and the modularization operators) into business systems. This is even more important than ever in a time of rapid cycles and transformational change.

It is also useful, especially when combined with the work of Clayton Christensen on disruptive inovation, to understand the evolution of industry ecologies. I have heard that the next volume (if it ever comes out) will go further in this direction. One needs a point of view on value-web evolution to make strategic bets. Of course one will often be wrong, the future will always surprize us. The real purpose of strategic thinking is to help us realize we are wrong more quickly so that we can respond and shape the emerging change.

Design Rules also serves as history of evolution and differentiation in the mainframe industry (there are rich veins of historical data), introduces or reminds us of variable analytical tools, and it is physically a lovely book, well designed, well bound.

Software people reading this review may think 'so what' we know all this stuff about information hiding and modularization. But I wonder, how many software systems are designed to evolve? Most decay with change. A system that evovles needs to be self similar across levels of organization, allow the modular operators to operate, represent itself to itself ... Even if object and aspect programming catch much of this, few software engineers are able to apply it at an organizatoinal or value-web level, and so their systems are detached from the environments that will select them.

I hope the authors and publishers will get the second volume out soon!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book -- the best to be found on modularity Aug. 10 2007
By Edward Durney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Carliss Baldwin and Kim Clark have produced a landmark work on modularity. Looking in detail at the computer industry as it evolved from the 1960s to almost 2000, the authors use that industry to explain the power of modularity.

The concepts Baldwin and Clark discuss apply to many industries. I think, for example, a modular electric car may change the carmaking industry from dismal to vibrant. The authors' ideas have given me a lot of solid theory to build my modular carmaking idea on.

Design Rules was planned to be volume one of a two-volume set. Then Kim Clark went from being the dean of Harvard Business School to being the president of BYU-Idaho (is that a step up or a step down?). So, he says, he's done with academic research. No volume two. That's a shame.

[Update: Carliss Baldwin says that she is working on volume two. Right now, though, it is mostly individual papers written by multiple authors. So we can look forward, it seems, to more on the architecture and strategy of design rules.]

Finally, I must say that for me, the book is hard to read. Two Harvard Business School professors, including the dean at the time, might be expected to write in a dense style. And they did. We lesser mortals have to struggle a bit to get to the ideas they present.

But the struggle is worth it. Highly recommended book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bought it for class in August July 17 2013
By davidw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Received the book when promised, in like new conditin. Had plenty of time to read entire contents before class meetings in August.
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