“Why don’t we just try something. Anything would be better than what we’ve currently got”.
At a recent meeting on intelligent mobility some of the – dare I say it – younger members of the audience were becoming frustrated at the lack of progress with driver-less cars. One heckled, “Why don’t we just try something. Anything would be better than what we’ve currently got”.
If only it were true. Replacing the current boring human-driver system with a better one will be a challenge. The number of road deaths in the UK is lower than it was when records began in 1926. The rate – deaths per billion miles of journey – has almost dropped off the bottom of the page.
If one looks at the old-fashioned terrestrial aids used in air navigation it is clear that nothing stifles progress more than being in the dull land of the “good enough”. It’s not that no one wants to move on. It’s simply the case that these old fashioned systems have dropped off the fix-it list. In-flight loss of control and the mental health of pilots are causing concern; getting lost is not.
The internet, Twitter and the motorized tie rack (with built-in LED light) were not invented to solve any known problems but they have changed our lives.
But how dull! Surely innovation is not about fixing problems but about having a vision? The internet, Twitter and the motorized tie rack (with built-in LED light) were not invented to solve any known problems but they have changed our lives.
Two factors need to be taken in to consideration. One is complexity. Complex systems respond to even the smallest changes in surprising and unforeseen ways. The second is the observation that “optimal is rarely beautiful”. Unlike simple products, concepts or ideas, systems that have evolved and been proven over time work much better than they look. They are deceptive.
Put the two together and you have all the makings of a rift. The experts know that the ugly old system – warts and all – is actually pretty good. It just doesn’t look it. Years of clearing the fix-it list have done their job.
Idealists, perfections and the plain ignorant, on the other hand, see such systems as having no legitimacy. These are things that have arisen by chance rather than design. In their opinion, a half-wit could do a better job.
The moral of the story: before you chuck out a well-established system, no matter how ugly, make sure you have at least one half-wit to work on the replacement.