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Powerful Simplicity in Action - The Plimsoll Line

Ryan Dall

My favourite example of a powerful idea, simply and effectively implemented, is The Plimsoll line.

The Plimsoll line on ships was first introduced in 1876 by Samuel Plimsoll MP as part of his Unseaworthy Ships Bill and endures pretty much unchanged to this day.

Designed to combat so called “coffin ships” – unseaworthy and overloaded vessels, often heavily insured by unscrupulous owners who happily risked the lives of their crews – the Plimsoll line is a reference mark located on a ship’s hull that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed when loaded with cargo.

It’s not a sales tool or a money or labour-saving device, it actually saves people’s lives by ensuring the safe passage of ships and their cargo. It is internationally recognised and understood, transcending educational and language barriers – so if I’m in Shanghai, Dubai, Rio or London it works and is understood.

The calibrations simplify an incredibly complex problem so that it works in every part of the world, at all times of the year, in vastly different sea conditions, and all in an elegantly simple way.

Even in today’s global economy where we can order tech from China or America at the press of a button – the Plimsoll line still makes sure our goods and the people delivering them, get to us safely and in one piece.

An idea doesn’t have to be new or complex to be good – it just has to be good.

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