Six Things That Should Be Single Sourced

Single-sourcing, as we all know, is the art and science of using a single repository of information to produce multiple outputs. Typical examples include creating a PDF and online Help project from one source, or creating different versions of the same manual for different user types. It is one of the most valuable weapons in the battle to tame the information monster.

Of course, single-sourcing has been used for many years in other industries, particularly in programming. Developers use object-oriented programming to create re-usable modules (or “classes’) of code. These modules are stored and maintained in one location, and used as necessary. Object-oriented programming is called “OOPs” for short. “OOPs” is also something programmers like to say when they realize an entire module is missing from an application that has just been released.

A Single-Sourced World

Single-sourcing has even been applied to industries outside of software. Car makers, for example, design their cars so that a spark plug for one engine will fit in other engines. This process of standardization is a form of single-sourcing that reduces maintenance and assembly costs, although probably won’t be enough to save General Motors – more on this later.

Single-sourcing is such a powerful idea that I see no reason why it can’t be applied to other areas:

  1. Light bulbs – Have you been to a hardware store recently? There’s about 200 different kinds of light bulbs to choose from. Halogen, fluorescent, incandescent… Remember the good old days when there was just one shape of light bulb, and the only variance was the wattage? Have you ever tried to change a halogen bulb? It’s easier to put braces on a mosquito. I say single source it – one light fixture for all.
  2. Screws – Continuing on the subject of hardware, can someone explain why there are so many different types of screws? There’s the screw head drive patterns: slotted, Philips, raised, torx, hex, Robertson, tri-wing, torq-set, spanner, and my personal favourite, pozidriv. Additionally, there are different head shapes: pan head, button or dome head, round head, truss head, flat head, oval or raised head, bugle head, cheese head (I’m not making this up), fillister head, socket head (what we call an uncooperative reviewer) and headless (like the horseman). To further complicate things, there’s metric and non-metric sizes. To paraphrase Murphy’s law: the odds of having the correct screw at the correct size and shape and the correct tool for it are inversely proportional to the importance of what you are trying to attach. Surely some of these shapes, patterns and sizes could be amalgamated. Otherwise, we’re screwed.
  3. Cars – As indicated earlier, the Big Three automakers don’t seem that big anymore, with Ford and GM posting record losses, and Chrysler probably not far behind. Eventually, these three companies may have to merge – single-sourcing at its finest. But why stop there? Why not just have one car company throughout the world? Yes – it would be a monopoly, but think all of the money that would be saved in research, marketing, advertising and so on. Far fewer parts would have to be manufactured and maintained. Mechanics would just have to know how to work on a few different cars instead of hundreds. Buying a car would be easier and faster because there would be fewer choices. We could give this new car company a catchy name, like “Toyota” or “Honda”.
  4. Language – What’s with all these people that don’t speak English? Everybody knows it’s the official language of the universe. Want proof? Watch any Star Trek episode – no matter what planet is visited, its inhabitants speak English. Do you know how much money is wasted translating information into various languages? The time and effort to learn other languages is staggering. We desperately need to single-source language – everyone speaks English from now on. And if you don’t like it, well, hasta la vista, baby.
  5. Political parties – It’s going to cost $270 million dollars to have an election. Didn’t we just have one? What a waste. Let’s avoid this nonsense now and forever and just have one party. Think of all the money and time we’d save! No more election campaigns. No money wasted on the “official” opposition. Everyone would do their own thing and we’d leave the government to do theirs, without having to be bothered every few years putting a silly little ‘X’ on a piece of paper.
  6. Countries – And since we’re on the subject of politics, why do we need so many countries? Couldn’t some or all of them be merged? Instead of having to pay for hundreds of governments and leaders, we could just have one. Everything would be consistent and standard from country to country. Travel would be easier because you’d no longer need a passport and everyone would speak the same language.

I Have A Dream, and it is Single Sourcing…
This is the vision. This is the dream. Soon, we will be able to celebrate the glorious anniversary of these single source directives. We will create, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology. Where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our unification of thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

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