What in the world is a trim tab?
This little thing called a trim tab is so important that the official Buckminster Fuller Institute named their digital news service after it, and it’s even on Buckminster Fuller’s tombstone:
Why did Buckminster Fuller say, “Call me Trim Tab”?
Apparently it originated in a 1972 interview where Bucky Fuller says the following (emphasis added in bold):
Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth again: The whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole ship of state is going to turn around. So I said, ‘Call me Trim Tab.’
The truth is that you get the low pressure to do things, rather than getting on the other side and trying to push the bow of the ship around. And you build that low pressure by getting rid of a little nonsense, getting rid of things that don’t work and aren’t true until you start to get that trim-tab motion. It works every time. That’s the grand strategy you’re going for. So I’m positive that what you do with yourself, just the little things you do yourself, these are the things that count. To be a real trim tab, you’ve got to start with yourself, and soon you’ll feel that low pressure, and suddenly things begin to work in a beautiful way. Of course, they happen only when you’re dealing with really great integrity: You must be helping evolution. (1)
Here’s a short clip of Fuller describing how trim tabs work in his own words:
Let’s get a little more context. Val Jon Farris worked with Fuller in the early 1980s and says:
Bucky told a story of when the Navy commissioned him to solve a critical engineering problem at the height of World War II. As the war raged on the high seas ever-larger battle ships were needed to seize the advantage. As these ‘great ships of state’ as Bucky called them grew in size, their steering mechanisms required more power to turn their rudders than their engines could produce. His revolutionary invention not only solved this crucial military problem it created a new paradigm for human greatness. Bucky’s invention was called a ‘Trimtab,’ a small six-inch wide strip of metal attached by hinges to the trailing edge of a ship’s rudder. As an engine’s hydraulics force the Trimtab into the path of oncoming water, the pressure generated against it assists the rudder in making its turn. Next, Bucky posed that like this tiny sliver of metal can alter the course of a great ship of state, you and I as little individuals can change the course of humanity. (2)
The Impact of an Individual on Society: Are you a Trim Tab?
Do you feel like you’re called to be a trim tab?
Anyone can act as a trim tab, in part by recognizing the potential downstream influence of small, high-leverage actions pointing in the right new direction. The trim tab’s tiny movement has leverage. The right shift in the right place at the right time.— Amy C. Edmondson (3)
Fuller was a firm believer that he was simply an example of an “average healthy human” and that individuals could effectively act on behalf of humanity and do what no other groups seemed to be able to do:
I am now close to 88 and I am confident that the only thing important about me is that I am an average healthy human. I am also a living case history of a thoroughly documented, half-century, search-and-research project designed to discover what, if anything, an unknown, moneyless individual, with a dependent wife and newborn child, might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity that could not be accomplished by great nations, great religions or private enterprise, no matter how rich or powerfully armed.
How can you start using the principles of the universe to be a trim tab today?
(There are) principles operating in our universe and how the little individual is given—all of us are given—mind to discover principles, and if you use those principles and think about your problem in the proper manner, you can be effective.
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- Sloww Sunday Newsletter 007 — How to Start a Movement, Slow Living is Powerful Living, Buckminster Fuller, & More
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