I recently had a conversation with a well read and well traveled friend of mine about an article we came across in a leading electrical engineering publication: “Common design mistakes.” Moving beyond the initial cynicism around how this was the time of pessimistic news headlines all around, we started seriously pondering over how engineering and product development have evolved. Gone are the days when a design specification sheet for a product carried instructions on how to build something right; now it’s all about how to avoid common errors around it.
The wise man had a good analogy: the most recent electronic component that we sourced from a leading consumer electronics manufacturer, had its errata sheets multiple pages longer than the product guide in itself. Notwithstanding the pressure to ship something in whatever state, so as to gain the “early bird” advantage in this consumer era, there is a level of responsibility each one of us has as professionals, to product design and the associated disciplines.
I wonder 20 years ago if the engineers had the same mindset if we would have made all the rapid advancements we have made today. It is the onus of every individual to make sure there is a balance between delivering to short-term materialistic commitments and preserving long-term value for the efforts.
No wonder this led to the term: “technical debt”. A lot of the high-tech companies are putting in serious efforts today, to address this debt they’ve accumulated over the years, for varying reasons – internal and external. I am not sure who coined this kind of “debt” term specifically but I can see a lot of value in equating this to the financial markets and the general world economic situation we face today.
If the financial curriculum of the Harvards and Stanfords of the world had included how not to do certain things, maybe the thought of severe repercussions would have played a role in reducing the magnitude of bad decisions taken.
I was privy to a recent airing of a documentary on this very subject: titled “House of Cards” aptly, this focused on the collapse of the market led by the decisions around mortgage securities and lending institutions. What they did not address was, to me, a critical step of righting the wrong: capturing specific lessons and mistakes of today, so they aren’t repeated in the future. It feels like we have come to a point in society today where knowing the wrongs are more important, so that we can avoid those perils, and thereby be on the right track.
As a fifth grader attending a special course on preparing for a Math Olympiad, the instructor said the best way to approach solutions to complex problems was to eliminate the choices – to think that we all laughed back, then!
I am sure “The Bernie Madoff” will be a crucial case study in the not too distant future (or maybe even a postulation), but does it take what it did to actually learn from it? In a way, I am thankful to the likes of Madoff for without them, we would have lost a valuable lesson.
If we can predict and work around common “design mistakes” for replaceable materialistic objects, I am sure that we intellectuals of the 21st century can learn from regulatory mistakes (or lack thereof, of sufficient regulations) to avert large-scale global situations like the ones we currently face…what say?
Image Credit: Shiny Things