Form follows function—that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.
—Frank Lloyd Wright

Innovation and invention seem to be central to who we are as humans. We don’t simply use tools. We continually work to create and improve tools and systems to do things to make a task easier or more efficient. We work hard to make things easy. But, it’s not just that we want to build a better hammer, we also want to build a better way to make hammers.

Then we seem to mess it all up.

A thing is designed and created to help do a task. A government is established. A business is created. A farm is developed. A school is founded. A church is built. All created to serve a particular function. None of them created simply for the sake of existence. An institution is born.

A government is established to manage the needs of a group of people. To create an infrastructure so that the people can function collectively. To make sure the roads are drivable, to ensure the school has what it needs to educate children, to keep order at times, to be a referee and occasionally step in to try to create an environment where someone who’s willing to put in the work has a fair chance at success. To serve the people of a region so that the maximum number of them have protection and an opportunity to thrive are the primary purposes of those efforts. People are generally willing to contribute and pay their share of taxes as long as they feel that they’re getting something equitable for the money they’re required to pay. I pay my taxes and the road in front of my house gets paved and maintained. Peace and prosperity are byproducts of a functioning society.

The institution remains true to the function it was designed to serve. The institution thrives. Form follows function.

Over time, the focus changes. Those in roles of service are seduced or replaced by others with power and influence who want to be first in line for the pool of resources. They no longer want to serve. They want to be in charge. Instead of ensuring everyone has a fair chance for success, they tip the scales incrementally to serve a few. I pay my taxes and the city rezones a neighborhood to commercial zoning and seizes my land through eminent domain because a developer with money and influence wants to put in a shopping center.

Over time prosperity of the population weakens in certain neighborhoods and prosperity shifts to poverty. Poverty causes cracks in peace. Cracks in the peace create fear. That fear causes people lose faith in the government. Lack of faith in government turns to hostility.

The institution corrupted its purpose and no longer serves the function that it was created to do and eventually collapses. Function follows form.

A business is created to offer a certain product or service. Someone has an idea for some “thing” that they believe others will find useful or valuable. The person works hard, puts in the hours and innovates and creates this “thing.” Others see its value and somewhere along the way the thing develops a monetary value that the person is able to sell it for. Maintaining high quality and standards are paramount to the business. The person wants to do everything he can to ensure that the thing he’s selling is well made and his customers are satisfied. To create and maintain the “thing” that others see as useful and valuable is the purpose of the business. Earning income from that “thing” is the byproduct of those efforts.

The institution remains true to the function it was designed to serve. The institution thrives. Form follows function.

Then one day the man decides to retire and sells the company. The new owners see profit margins as the primary focus of the business instead of creating and selling a quality product. They cut costs on materials and labor. For a while the profits go up because they’re still riding on the reputation of the brand and stock holders are happy. But before long, customer satisfaction starts to decline because they recognize the decrease in service and quality and sales go down. A few years go by, profit margins slip and so the company moves production out of country where labor and materials are cheaper. But, quality control and innovation are no longer priorities and so sales plummet and the company dumps production and licenses the brand.

A once well respected company has now been reduced to a logo that can be slapped on anything willing to pay the money.

The institution corrupted its purpose and no longer serves the function that it was created to do and eventually collapses. Function follows form.