Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

What Standards?

Last week, while I was poking fun at Apple’s effluvia, I got bit by an extreme example of just how blind natural selection can be. In this case, the offender was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Apple’s $10,000 watch.

First, I need to remind you of the basics. When a creature fails to survive in its environment, it is not the only casualty. Any other creature dependent upon it, e.g., as food, may also be put at risk.

When a product fails in the business environment, it may not be the only casualty. Obviously, the producer may be at risk, but then the type of failure may also affect the users of this product. Think GM’s recent ignition debacle and the driver-victims.

For another example, recall the pets that died because of China’s faulty pet foods. Unfortunately, the list is endless as are its unintended victims. Now, you can add me to the list—fortunately, I will survive.

Pure blind luck, especially if you believe the advertisements for batteries. They often speak of how critical it is to have working (i.e., long-lasting) batteries. My situation was not critical; it was just TV.

I needed two AA batteries for my TV remote. Got out the new ones I’d purchased last month. Hmm. Had trouble getting them into their slots. Hmm. Then I couldn’t close the door to make the necessary contact. What the hell?

That’s right, sports fans, my brand new AA batteries didn’t fit! These AA batteries, the most standard object in out mostly digital universe, were too big! How could this be? I can tell you in just two words: Quality Control.

In their rush to get products and parts made more cheaply in China, our lazy manufacturers have lost sight of Quality Control. The Chinese may have made the error, but the responsibility was ours.

Back in the mid-60s, I was computer support for Management at NYU’s Graduate School of Business (now NYU Stern GBA). Also there was W. Edwards Deming. You can read about him on Wikipedia.

I can tell you this: at the time, he was a prophet without honor in his own country. His work was looked down on because it wasn’t glamorous, didn’t use the latest mathematical or computing methods. But it couldn’t have been more important.

Why? Deming’s approach to Quality Control was adopted by the Japanese, big time. It was the reason their automakers took over the world market, while ours are still making—poorly—longer, lower, and wider gas guzzlers.

It’s not an overstatement to say Deming was a God in Japan. Eventually, he was recognized here, but our auto makers are still playing catchup. All because no one (even the people at GBA and I was one of them) listened to him in the 60s.


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