No Place for the Unaware

Be aware. Have a bias for action. Be willing to make a difference.

The level of complexity in this industry can’t be overstated.  Not only must vehicles be developed that can perform in conditions ranging from the Arctic to the Sahara, they must also provide comfort, reliability, entertainment, and a whole range of other attributes that go far beyond what otherwise might be expected of a means by which people go from point A to B.  In addition—as if that is not enough—these products must be produced so that they provide emotional appeal for the consumers.  Go anywhere, do anything, and be loveable, to boot.

And then there is another factor that must be taken into account, the human factor.  That is, the random factor.  People do all manner of things in their cars and trucks that could fill a set of “The Encyclopedia of the Strange and Unusual.”  And many of these things have to be anticipated, whether it is eating in a vehicle (what are the consequences of all manner of food debris on buttons or knobs or fabrics?) or using the engine compartment as a cooking device.

The recent GM recall related to the ignition switch failures has called to attention the propensity of some people to have massive amount of mass dangling from their key chains, everything from framed photographs to souvenirs to an array of other keys that remind me of the guy who was the janitor in my elementary school who had a key to every room in the building and possibly an apartment building to boot on a carabiner  on his belt.  Figure out the torque vectors of that.

But there can’t be any excuses when it comes to designing, engineering and building vehicles that carry our loved ones or selves; that allow police and fire and medical personnel to carry out their jobs; that have become, in many ways, absolutely essential for our public existence in contemporary society.

Talk to people who are involved with products like brakes or seat belts and they’ll tell you that they are involved in developing “safety critical” systems.  If you think about it, in many ways, everything is safety critical, be it a bolt or a bracket, a switch or a seat.  A vehicle is more than the sum of its parts; things have a synergistic relationship.

Sometimes it is all too easy to become complacent in what we do.  We establish a routine and stick with it.  Things change.  Yet we ignore it.  Things go wrong.  We fix the problem.  But we don’t do a root cause analysis and fix the cause, just deal with the consequence.  Then go back to doing what we’ve done.  Things change.  We follow our routine.  Things go wrong.  We fix it.  And then it is the weekend.  Monday comes.  Hit the “Resume” button.  More things go wrong.  More fixes.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

And then something hits the fan.  Big time.

This is almost nothing that couldn’t have been anticipated, nothing that couldn’t have been preemptively handled.  Sure, there are random events, pages from the aforementioned encyclopedia.  Were we more aware, more conscientious, more conscious of our actions or inactions, we probably could have been ahead of the issues.

But we aren’t.

And things go wrong.  Seriously wrong.  And in this industry, that can lead to fatal consequences.

Be aware.  Have a bias for action.  Be willing to make a difference.  It won’t be as comfortable as rolling along in that groove that has been worn down by days, months and years of doing the same things, over and over, but that groove is nothing more than a ditch, and shouldn’t we all desire to rise above that?