Andy Lester

Technology, careers, life and being happy

Please help me with terminology for “small acts that add to a greater whole”

| 14 Comments

I’m looking for a term to describe small positive actions that individuals do to add up to a greater whole.

Examples in the world of open source software might include:

  • Answering a question on a mailing list
  • Testing a beta release
  • Welcoming someone to a community
  • Submitting a bug report, or clarifying an existing one
  • Patching a bug
  • Closing a ticket
  • Removing dead code
  • Silencing a compiler warning
  • Adding a test to the test suite
  • Blogging about how you use a software package
  • Thanking others on the project
  • Patching the documentation
  • Adding a tutorial example to the docs
  • Adding notes to the README
  • Hosting or speaking at a user group meeting
  • Attending a user group meeting

Outside of software development specifically, the best example is making an edit to a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia is nothing but millions of these small actions, aggregated.

The term “microaggression” was coined to describe a small non-physical interaction between people that communicates hostility towards others.  I’m looking for the opposite.

The Japanese term “kaizen” means “improvement”, or “change for the better”, and is close to what I’m talking about, but I’m looking for a term for the actions, not the process.

If there’s not a similar term to describe the small positive actions that create a greater whole, I’m going to coin it.

Ideas? References? Existing terms I haven’t thought of?  Please post them below.

14 Comments

  1. This has religious overtones, but the word might help add to your vocabulary: Mitzvah. It can also mean “A good deed done”, or “a meritorious or charitable act”.

    “Mitzvahs are commandments in the Torah that Jews must observe (everything from the positive commandment of honoring your parents to the negative commandment of not committing murder). There are many types of mitzvahs. One important category is performing acts of loving kindness.” – from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/02/performing-small-acts-of-kindness/

  2. Also religious overtones, but “grace” would be my recommendation.

  3. I’ve heard these called “microaffirmations” to contrast with “microaggressions.”

  4. Just thinking out loud:

    Philanthropy, altruistic, altruism. Selflessness is related as many who are selfless dedicate efforts to altruism, and many altruists are relatively selfless. Benevolent altruism with the intention of increasing the well-being of mankind, especially by charitable giving.

    Good luck.

  5. Mitzvah is perfect. I was about to say that I always think of people who do those things as mensches (though I am not Jewish).

  6. Hmmmm….microcommits?

    The word “gestalt” is used to denote something that is “larger than the sum of its parts”, so perhaps “adding to a gestalt” or, to create a phrase, “gestalting”?

    Incromitting? (a combination of “incrementing” and “commit”)

    That’s all that comes to mind for the moment.

  7. Salt.

    Reading Jack’s comment and seeing the word ‘gestalt’, I wondered if we could do a play on words… and saw salt.

    Salt enhances flavor, often improving the taste of something. Salt is also useful in helping boil water, or make ice cream. We don’t eat salt by itself (at least I don’t). It always has to be coupled with something else. And even then, its still a minor part of what we add it to.

    It’s not a verb, so it’s not an act unless we “salt” something, or are in the act of salting. But it definitely adds to the large whole.

  8. Micro-contribution perhaps?

  9. nudges

    please don’t use micro-*. This could be useful.

    Perhaps consider the origin of “meme”, which Richard Dawkins coined because it’s similar to “gene” and taken from the greek “mimeme” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

    Where does a similar phenomenon occur in nature that you can take and change a word from?

    Good luck

  10. ‘tuppence’? ( Or globalized to: two-cents/two-pence)
    As each person contributes their £0.02, it all adds up ;-)

  11. A lot of these are more “business-like”, but I have always used ELB – Exponential Little Bit – to describe these baby steps toward a goal.

    Years ago I read this blog post about ELBs: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/newsletters/read/1825 and it just stuck with me.

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