This idea of corridors has occurred to me over the last few months. I know of no references for the way of thinking that I will try to describe here. I am sure these references exist, but I do not know where they are.
Applications of Corridors
Corridors have application in law, and its sister concept of regulation; in design, and its subset applications of architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and fine arts, such as drama, art, music, and dance; in policy, and its subset applications of corporate policy, or global, national, regional, and local policy (bodies of legislation and accompanying case law and precedent is a broad variant on this idea); in education, when schools ask students to specify a major, to join a department, or to specialize in a field; and in careers, when individuals define their own professional corridors, e.g. in engineering, software design, medicine, law, business, etc.
The Core Idea of Corridors
The core idea is this: productivity is a function of well-designed corridors. Design a corridor that is too narrow, and productivity is stifled. Design a corridor too wide, and productivity suffers from too many permutations and combinations of possibilities.
If any given project is vague, then the progress of the project managers is limited as they attempt to find a path forward that makes sense. Once found, a clear path forward leads to progress in leaps and bounds. If the path forward is not found, among a myriad of possibilities, then project teams flounder and are frustrated.
Corridors in Law
A law is a corridor hammered out by the legislative body. Designed well, a law specifies the corridor by which activity is “legal”. And conversely, a law specifies which activity is “illegal”. Along with the idea of illegal comes the the sanctions applied to those unfortunate enough to be caught doing something illegal.
Corridors in Regulation: the Sister Concept to Corridors in Law
A regulation reflects the desire of a law-making body to avoid making the law itself too narrow (where the language of the law effectively gets into counter-productive micro-management). It reflects the delegation of authority from the law-making body to an agency. The agency is charged with coming up with “regulations’ that define the tactics of the law. Done well, regulations always remain within the corridors outlined in the law. They reflect the intention of the law, and are an executional element of the law. Done poorly, regulation stray beyond the corridors outlined in the law, and can serve to confuse the public and frustrate the law-makers.
An example of Corridors in Law and Regulation: Social Security
FDR is known for making Social Security the law of the land. The US Congress, in adopting Social Security, effectively defined a corridor for aging in the US. From its adoption forward, older citizens who qualify for Social Security are entitled to a “safety net” of income. Because Congress recognized that this entitlement would require dynamic adjustment over time, it authorized the Social Security Administration to publish regulations that would tactically implement, and to adjust over time, the intentions of the law.
Corridors in Design
Creatives focus. The really great ones define corridors for their work. The corridors are broad enough to be highly motivating to the creative – who yearns for freedom of thought and expression. At the same time, they are narrow enough to allow the creative to be highly productive, by applying and reapplying their creative concepts within a relatively narrow scope.
An example of Corridors in Design: Steve Jobs and Apple
An example is Steve Jobs and Apple – a brilliant example of choosing a corridor for creativity and productivity. Apple defined the personal computer as their corridor – with stunning success. As they achieved preeminence in this field, Apple was able to see a larger corridor, which the world now sees as the ipod, iPad, iPhone, and – now – the iWatch. Are these new consumer appliances different than a “personal computer” – the corridor of the original vision? I would argue that they are not different: they are applications of the personal computer corridor, brilliantly subsuming appliances from other corridors into the corridor of personal computing.
Corridors in Policy
I mentioned that policy is an area where the notion of properly chosen, well-defined corridors can lead to high productivity. Corporate, Global, National, Regional, and Local Policy-Makers must constantly struggle to define corridors within which citizens and institutions within their sphere of influence must operate.
Urban Policy as an Example of Corridors in Policy
Take urban policy as an example. Urban design policies found in comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. These plans and regulations reflect policies about where a given city wants to grow. How much growth should be in industrial, commercial, and residential ? Where are the geographies slated for each? Where does mixed-use fit? What procedures allow for changes over time?
Corridors in Education
Education is probably the most classical application of the example of a “corridor”. It is impossible to know everything. So educators attempt to guide students in narrowing their field of study. An undergraduate education might well define “liberal arts” or “engineering” as a corridor of study. A graduate program might define “public administration” or “mechanical engineering” as a corridor. Unfortunately, however, there are far too many examples of students getting lost in a corridor as large as “liberal arts”. Out of frustration parents and students alike may well force a narrower corridor. Chosen well, such a narrower corridor, e.g. history, can focus the mind and increase productivity and creativity. At the same time, there are far too many examples of those who define an educational corridor that is too narrow, e.g. automotive mechanics.
Example of Corridors in Education
90%+ of US students follow a corridor path that is well-known. They might, for example, take liberal arts as an undergraduate, and major in a science, social science, language, or fine arts. But US students may well have the sites set on graduate school, and so they stay very broad in undergraduate courses so they do not limit their choices in graduate school. A law or medicine graduate student does well to stay broad in undergraduate classes. The medicine corridor in graduate school would naturally expect more science course. The law corridor in graduate school would be inclined to expect high proficiency in writing and communication and analysis as an undergraduate.
Corridors in Careers
What is my career path? Virtually everyone struggles with this question. It is a corridor question and brings with it the same perils of other corridor choices. Choose a corridor that is too narrow, e.g. cost accounting, and the person runs a real risk that opportunities will rapidly fall outside the chosen corridor. The result will be career confusion, as job choices can be endless, and dead-end job choices are everywhere. At the same time, choose a career corridor that is too broad, e.g. systems design, and the person runs a real risk that no employers trusts that the applicant is qualified for a specific job that is available.
Example of Corridors in Careers
Sales is a reasonably common example of a career corridor filled with endless possibilities, and yet it is very specific in the eyes of an employer. “Show me proof that you can sell”, they might say. And with that proof, they may well not care if they have proof that the person can sell a specific widget or software or product or service.