The Subtle Dance Between Structure And Flow

Have you ever heard of square watermelons? Although chances that you never heard of them (as they got quite popular lately), are quite small, I will briefly tell you their story.

In 1978, a Japanese designer, Tomoyuki Ono, had an epiphany. It suddenly dawned upon him that if we can make watermelon cubic, we would optimize the space in our fridges. Not only that, but we could also eat them better, as the shape would be easier to manage. So, he placed a cage around them, and forced them to fill that structure. He presented its first harvest in Ginza, and he even obtained a patent in the US.

I find this example very good for the dance between structure and flow.

Structure is designed to be predictable and optimized for a certain context. It’s fixed and manageable.

Flow, on the other side, tends to be unpredictable and hard to optimize. It’s flexible and hard to manage.

A spherical watermelon is just flow. It grows filling the space as it sees fit. It doesn’t care about any type of structure and adjusts for survival.

But if you take its fundamental growing energy and funnel it through whatever structure you imagine, like a cube (or, more recently, even hearts or pyramids) you give it a different form. You force it into a structure. Flow becomes frozen. It will fill a certain space, as designed, but it won’t fill anything else. And it will definitely optimize the space in the fridge.


There is a but.

The cube shape of the watermelon can only be achieved at the expense of its contents. To retain the proper shape, cube melons must be harvested before they are ripe, rendering them inedible


Too much structure kills the flow.

And, as you already imagined, this is not related to watermelons.

If we became too attached to certain habits, or behavioral patterns, we may optimize for a certain limited context, but we will be completely unprepared for others. We will be a square watermelon, inedible.

If we put too many rules inside a society, the society will become more predictable, but less active, in a sense, less alive. We saw this during the last couple of years, when lockdowns, and, more recently, vaccine passports, are forcing a certain shape on society, a more predictable and safe one, but at the expense of the liveliness in the said society. We may exist more, if we give in to those forced structures, but, just as a cubic watermelon, we will never really ripe.

Last, but not least, if you impose too much regulation on a certain sector, say cryptocurrencies, that sector will definitely become more stable, but its real usefulness will dwindle. It may fit in the fridge of the regulators, but it will be useless.

Whenever you have the choice between structure and flow, I would say bite the bullet and go with the flow.

Image by Francisco Antunes –, CC BY 2.0,

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