"Move fast and break things"...a possible mantra for the hobby?

I’m waxing philosophical this morning…which generally gets me into trouble with my readers. Oh well, I was in one of those moods, thinking about how we evolve as hobbyists, and I drew some parallels to some philosophies discussed in the business world…I thought it might make for an interesting (if somewhat controversial) discussion today.

“Move fast and break things…”

It’s a great quote, attributed to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and adapted by many tech startups all over the world as a philosophy of rapid growth, improvement, and innovation. A lot of business people will tell you that this philosophy is great when you’re starting out, but eventually has to evolve to a more stable mantra as a business endeavour “matures.”

Well, that’s all good, but I can't seem to get that expression out of my head of late, especially when I think about how it applies to the aquarium world. Sure, in business, it’s a great idea to evolve rapidly and make quick changes and iterations if something doesn’t work…and being small and nimble allows you to do that relatively easily. I know I’ve adapted at least part of that in my work with Tannin Aquatics- we may have embraced the concept unknowingly as we evolved, but there has always been always a plan somewhere

Ahh..the plan. or rather, how to achieve the goals stated in “the plan.” This is how I think that, if implemented with some thought, the “move fast and break things” philosophy can be adapted into our  aquarium keeping efforts. 

Hear me out on this. 

Okay, we’re always preaching patience with aquarium-keeping- a key ingredient- and I’m the first one to tell you that it’s the major component of successful aquariums. However, when you’re first starting out, is it always necessary to follow a detailed plan to the ‘nth” degree? I mean, isn't it okay to adapt, to change, to scrap an idea and move on if t’s not working? Cut your losses?

I think it might be!

For example, let’s say you’ve designed your tank to follow the “Wabi Kusa”  You’re committed to creating an aquascape that adheres rigidly to this minimalist design philosophy.  A great goal, in theory- but is it a practical way to operate an aquarium system for you? Maybe. Maybe not. If your rocks are placed "not quite right", and if your Glostostigma are declining rapidly (ok, starving), do you exercise patience and “stay the course”, or do you take decisive steps to address the issue; modify the process- iterate, as they say? 

Yeah, maybe you evolve it a bit, because it wasn’t working.

Now, I’m not advocating 360 degree changes in your aquarium management approach every time something doesn’t give you desired results in 3 days. Chaos. I’ve worked in environments like that and it’s maddening No- not preaching that.

What I am thinking about is the mental ability to get yourself easily out of a situation that is simply not working for you- for the benefit of your animals, budget, time- and sanity. It’s a hobby, for goodness sake, so if you’re not enjoying it, what’s the point?

So, maybe it’s not “move fast and break things” for you…perhaps it’s “move at a nice rate of speed and change moderately quickly when things don’t work out.”

What are the benefits of adopting the “move fast” philosophy- or at least the gist of it- for you as an aquarist?

First, you can test a lot of ideas and concepts on your tank relatively quickly, in “real time”, rather than just reading about them on the forums. If you have a general idea of where you want to go with your tank, but are interested in a few approaches, this is not a bad way to go. You can 

work in multiple ideas to see if they work, and throw out the ones that don’t relatively quickly. Now, again, I’m not talking about major hardware shuffles (“Yeah, the 350 was too small, so three weeks later, I broke it down and ordered a 700.” That’s insanity.). I’m talking about “tweaks”, like deciding to feed your predatory fishes only at night- or a few days a week…or, perhaps dosing fertilizers only when the display is dark. Changing flow patterns, feeding times, light combinations. Tweaking. Not full-scale overhauls. 

Second, you can certainly learn stuff at a more rapid clip, right? If you’re giving yourself the opportunity to “audition” a practice, philosophy, procedure, etc., you can find out if something makes sense a whole lot more than if you commit 1,000 percent to a rigid philosophy of “I’m simply going to do it this way.”  Even if you don’t get the whole picture of what’s happening in your tank, attempting quick little experiments can give you an indication of the general direction or trend- an answer to a little piece of the puzzle that you can incorporate to evolve more successfully in the long term.

Finally, this philosophy actually can force you to look at things more honestly. In other words, if you decided to do something that maybe you thought might not work- by committing yourself to a “nothing is sacred” attitude at the start of your project, you can evaluate things in a more direct light and change things up as necessary to assure overall success of the tank and the health of its inhabitants. If you throw the “fun” part back into the equation, and share your trials and tribulations with other hobbyists, it certainly makes it more enjoyable to stop being stubborn and try to make things work, right? 

Of course, for every action, there’s an equal (?) and opposite reaction, right ( I think that’s all I remember from physics)..? So, what are the downsides to a rapid-iteration, “move fast and break things” philosophy?

To  begin with, you will probably build some “mental debt.” In other words, as you rapidly make changes and move things along, you may tend to overlook other things. Human nature, right? You tend to look at every change or iteration as a big experiment, and that you can “fix stuff later”- a kind of dangerous trap to fall into, especially when you think of the potential impact on living organisms. It’s one thing to make intelligent, measured changes, but to take shortcuts, non-sustainable work-arounds, and “band aids” harbors potential hidden dangers. Be alert to this. Your “relentless pursuit of perfection” (to coin the Lexus tagline) could result, ironically, in you never quite getting it right?

In addition, you might find yourself “burnt out” rather quickly. I mean, if you’re chaotically trying every new idea, every new gadget that’s out there in trying to find quick solutions, you will not likely enjoy this hobby for very long. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right? I mean, it’s a “hobby” at the end of the day. Yet, each day I read forum posts from dozens of hobbyists who flail helplessly in multiple directions, trying every little thing to change up their tank, solve a relatively simple problem. Algae issues are notorious for soliciting this kind of behavior- the desire to get the problem “solved” has resulted in many disasters (like using all sorts of chemicals and medications to eradicate algae, when the reality is that it could have been eradicated or managed with husbandry tweaks to begin with…). Think before you “iterate!”


In the end, I think there is nothing inherently wrong with the “move fast and break things” philosophy vis a vis aquarium keeping. However, I think that you can take it to an extreme. If you’re “breaking” too many things along the way, and not learning- and more important- not ENJOYING- this hobby, then what’s the point? Remember, responsible, thoughtful experimentation is always a good thing…as long as the knowledge and benefits gained from such experiments justify the “costs.”

I’m certain that there will be many different opinions on this, so I’d love to hear yours. There are many pros and cons to this thought process, and all have merit.

So, remember- stay focused. Stay engaged.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 
















Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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