Anyone who has ever dealt with large numbers knows that near perfection still gives a few exceptions to a standard. If you deal with 100,000 customers in a year and 99.999% of them are happy, there’s still one guy who is dissatisfied. The problem is this: we don’t think about that one guy often enough – we plan for perfect. In an extreme case, some folks won’t even acknowledge that imperfect is possible. That sort of thinking precipitates crises like the oil rig problem in the Gulf. Workers didn’t raise safety issues out of fear. The Italian cruise ship didn’t take the safety drills seriously.
What got me thinking about this is the discussion over the Keystone Pipeline as well as some of the reporting on the Japanese nuclear problem. Putting aside politics (maybe an impossible request, but let’s try), it seems to me that the people involved had been (or are) planning for perfect. Emergency plans were paid lip-service but not much more and the true impact of a problem is exacerbated by the lack of preparation.
We don’t ask what can go wrong often enough, and when we do we sometimes fall into the “but that will never happen” trap. If something can go wrong, we should assume it will. Servers fail. So does power, including back-up units. Things get lost in the mail, inclusive of private shippers with full package tracking. We arrive on business trips without luggage. No one plans to screw things up and yet things very often end up that way.People don’t always behave honorably even though we might always try to do so ourselves.
If we always plan for perfect, we’re not optimists. We’re idiots.