I lied and said I accurately predicted the failure

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret
Screen Shot 2019 01 07 at 4.29.39 PM

I was sitting at the dining room table and heard a quiet “thump.”  I looked over and saw one of the long ribbons filled with Christmas cards we had hung up had fallen.  The time of the incident was 9:02 am on January 4th.  It had been held up by blue painters tape.  As you may know blue painters tape is a great product for all kinds of stuff because it has a light adhesive and usually doesn’t damage what it is attached to when removed.

We had family over the next day and no one had picked up the sadly flopped on the floor pile of cards.  My sister commented on it and I told her that I put them up each year in a way where they fall exactly on January 4th signaling the end of the holiday.  I said the one that has failed is the one still up because it didn’t drop on time.  She looked at me with confusion and amazement so I kept a straight face realizing I could keep this going for a while.

My sister isn’t stupid, she just grew up with a brother who has done some ridiculous technical things all his life.  At 10 I made a small hydro electic plant with a toy car motor and a quaker oats box in the stream behind our house so I had lighting in the club house.  I wired lettuce heads with M80 firecrackers and vietnam war style triggers to help my dad get rid of varmints that were using his garden as a buffet.  This stuff was the norm. So something weird like making the task of holiday decorating not boring by hanging it in a way where it removes itself after the holiday is not out of the realm of possible ridiculous endeavor.

In a way this is planned obsolescence.  Creating a design that fails at a specific point in time.  You hear about it in technical discussions and at parties as conspiracy theories. But I only know of one real documented case.  It was the great light bulb conspiracy put together by the Phoebus cartel in 1924.  Not kidding, this is a real thing.  The cartel of light bulb manufacturers got together and made a pact to change their designs to fail at 1000 hours.  This was a reduction from the usual customer experience of about 2000 hrs. They said this was so they could burn brighter, but we aren’t buying that.

But I don’t think that really occurs today.  The reason is simply that people usually get rid of products because they want the latest greatest new features long before they wear out. It’s almost the opposite in a way.  Products don’t really wearout in the customer’s hands anymore.  if they do they get crappy ratings on Amazon before they can say “redesign.”

Customers don’t throw out products because they are broken. The customers just want something new.

This has really changed the strategy of  product development programs. We don’t need to study long term wearout in design right away.  It’s secondary in priority. There is a large percentage of customers that are very comfortable throwing out perfectly good products.  Others are almost happy (even eagerly awaiting) when a product breaks in three to five years so they are able to get the latest model.  Reliability programs must focus on random failures in early life.

The lesson is ” Don’t put initial reliability improvement efforts into controlling wearout.  Start with understanding and controlling random early and mid life failure.”  This is what brings product success today.


Side Note:  This past week a friend told me about an experience he recently had at the Apple store.  He went in because of a memory issue with his laptop.  They said it was an easy fix.  He told them he was ok with getting a new computer if that would solve it.  They said “No need it’ll be fine”.  He insisted that it was not a big deal to get a new one to fix the memory issue for good.  They again told him there was no need.  He was frustrated, “ughh fine fix it.” He was arguing with them to have them help justify getting the latest model. I laughed out loud because I’ve done that too.

This article on a new OLED TV that rolls up is making me think my TV is going to break later this year.  Oops!


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