Relying on path dependence

It turns out, that the fuel engines for the Space Shuttle couldn’t be larger than 4 feet and 8.5 inches wide.


Because that was the width of the rail line between Utah and Florida.

That width was determined a century ago by a few laborers who came over from England to help build the US rail system.

Before that, their predecessors in Europe built lines to fit along the paths made by horses and carts.

So, why 4 feet and 8.5 inches?

Because that is the width Romans built their roads.

As Adam Morgan and Mark Barden have pointed out, these rocket design features today have been shaped by a Roman road engineer 2,000 years ago.

This is the power of lock-in. We rely on the persistence of features without second thought.

We know that there are faster methods to type than the QWERTY keyboard but the pain of learning a whole new system isn’t worth the advantages.

meter stick is just a bar hung on a wall in France—all design features that we live with today.

Deciding which boundaries to work with and which ones to break, is a choice that each ruckus makers gets to decide.