Jeff Bridges gave a shoutout at the Golden Globe Awards this year to Buckminster Fuller for his observation about trim tabs. Jeff gave a brief description of these tabs. They are small surfaces that are connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface. You can find them on boats and aircraft. On a large ship, it can be a smaller rudder attached to the larger main rudder.

Buckminster Fuller noticed that it is very difficult for a large ship to turn. Think about how the Titanic seeing an iceberg dead ahead began to turn but couldn’t do it in time. Bucky noticed that the trim tabs could counteract hydro-forces and stabilize the ship by adjusting the angle of the tab relative to the larger surface. These small things could have a big influence on the larger ones and therefore on the ship or plane.

Designer Buckminster Fuller (best known for popularizing the geodesic dome as a structure) saw the trim tab as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment. This is the meaning that Bridges referred.

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.”     (Playboy, February 1972)

Jeff Bridges likes to think that he has tried in his way to be a trim tab. Buckminster Fuller thought of himself as a trim tab and liked that as a nickname.  If you are a trim tab, you may not be famous, rich or powerful, but you can apply pressure to those larger surfaces who are powerful and who do steer the ship of state or any organization or even larger entities such as the environment.

Fuller grave

Gravestone for Buckminster Fuller (Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts)