Shaker Quote

"If it is not useful or necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to make it.

"If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity.

"And finally: If it is both useful and necessary and you can recognize and eliminate what is not essential, then go ahead and make it as beautifully as you can."

-- the rule of thumb for Shaker creations, from ShakerBuilt by Paul Rochleau & June Sprigg

"Don't make something unless it is both made necessary and useful;
but if it is both necessary and useful,
don't hesitate to make it beautiful." -- Shaker dictum

"That is best which works best"
"Beauty rests on utility"
"Simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity"
-- Shaker Maxims

"Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow."

"You must not lose one moment of time for you have none to spare"

"Simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity"

"Beauty rests on utility"

"That which has in itself the highest use, possesses the greatest beauty"

Parallels to software development discussed on ShakerPhilosophyInSoftwareDevelopment page.

PerfectionIsAchieved seconds the Shakers.

I would turn this on its head by alluding to Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God ( that there is some reason to do something is strongly hinted at by the fact that I can imagine doing it. And doesn't that drop us into a pretty kettle of fish!

Perhaps OccamsRazor provides a counter-force here. "Of two competing theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred." (

-- BenTremblay

Someone please tell me if I'm missing something here. If I understand this idea correctly, it would block nearly all wonderful things from happening, at least if people really applied it (not that there is much danger of that). First, how do you know in advance whether something is useful? The vast majority of wonderful things and artifacts and inventions came about because people were just tinkering around - "enhancing" things just as the ShakerQuote says not to. Second, why limit ourselves to what is "necessary"? (Or does "necessary" have a special meaning in Shaker lore?) Music, Ferris wheels, games, companionship, pretty pictures, jokes, coffee, idle speculations - none of these things are "necessary", but the world would be a lot worse place without them. -- BenKovitz

The Shakers had music, games, and art. They applied their philosophy to these areas as they did to everything else of course. Shaker art is found in their rugs, clothes, and architecture, which is all strikingly beautiful and serves a purpose at the same time. Beauty is absolutely necessary for the health of our spirits, like food for the body. Without it we just can't go on. So there is definitely room for the aesthetic side of things... just not superfluous and showy aesthetics.

Ferris Wheels may seem unnecessary to some when viewed from the ground, but very necessary for at least two reasons, when you consider the view from the top of one on a clear day. -- PatCallahan

what is "necessary"? ... Music, games, companionship, jokes, art, idle speculations ... these are all necessary, is that what you suggest, Ben? If so, I agree and I'd suggest that the ShakerQuote stands. (As for ferris wheels and coffee ... I'm not so sure, but I expect that what is "necessary" needs to be evaluated by each of us, and our conclusions will differ.) -- EricHermann?

Given the relentless bombardment by the advertising juggernaut to buy! buy! buy! all the crap! crap! crap! out there so we can dig ourselves ever deeper into the indentured state of eternal debt, I've decided the Shakers were dead on. The Shakers had a lovely knack for finding exactly where art and utility intersected. I greatly admire that. Furthermore, I like the old New England aphorism, "Make it last, wear it out, make it do, or do without." Of course, we're talking personal values here, so in the corporate software development environment they may not apply. We have such a wonderful record that we could learn nothing from the Shakers, right?

-- DonOlson


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