Failure: The Reasons Are Piling Up

December 28, 2020

Years ago I read a monograph by some big wig in Europe. As I recall, that short book boiled down failure to one statement: “Little things add up.” The book contained a number of interesting industrial examples. “How Complex Systems Fail” is a modern take on the failure of systems. The author has cataloged 18 reasons. Here are three of the reasons, and it may be worth your time to check out the other 15.

  • Complex systems contain changing mixtures of failures latent within them.
  • Change introduces new forms of failure.
  • Failure free operations require experience with failure.

I am not an expert on failure although I have failed. I have had a couple of wins, but the majority of my efforts are total, complete flops. I am not sure I have learned anything. The witness to my ineptitude is this Web log.

Nevertheless, I would like to add a couple of additional reasons for failure:

  • Those involved deny the likelihood of failure. I suppose this is just the old “know thyself” thing. Thumb typers seem to be even more unaware of risks than I, the old admitted failure.
  • Impending failure emits signals which those involved cannot hear or actively choose to ignore.

The list of reasons will be expanded by an MBA pursuing a career in consulting. That, in itself, is one of those failure signals.

Little things still add up. Knowing about these little things is often difficult. I am not away of a hearing aid to assist whiz kids in detecting the exciting moment when the digital construct goes boom.

Stephen E Arnold, December 28, 2020


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