Jason Fried

February 24, 2021

Foam, tape, shims, and glue

I'm having a new window system installed at my home office. And I'm finding it a wonderful microcosm of business — and life — itself.

Here's what it looks like right now:


Foam, tape, shims, and glue — they're holding the whole thing together. It's the guts, the organs, the cartilage, and the bones to keep things lined up, and upright. On top of this game of Tetris, will float tight tolerances of metal and glass. Clean, crisp, and modern. Just like the brochure and proposal (but for twice the price and three times as long!).

Whenever people talk about great companies — especially the enviable ones — I always remind them that if you peeled back the shiny brand, the fancy communications, and the slick surface layer, you'd see something similar to the picture above.

Most businesses are held together with foam, tape, shims, and glue. Fragile supports, spontaneous structures, and stopgap methods to keep it all running. Scar tissue, unfinished edges, good intentions, legacy policies, and quite a few broken promises. Just enough to permit adequate progress to maintain an illusion of we got this.

Plan all you want, we're all still figuring it out as we go. We prop it up, wedge it in, spin it around, feel for the center of gravity, and carefully release our grip while slowly stepping back to see if it balances on its own. This goes for your startup, and companies that have been around forever. Ones clearing nothing, and ones clearing a trillion.

Not that there's ultimately anything wrong with that. Foam, tape, shims, and glue work! They're flexible, cheap, adaptable, universal, and do the job. They're the tools of the trade. But seeing them is always a good reminder that every facade hides something.

Companies are construction projects too.

About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.