Designing for Change

By | April 30, 2010
  • A human body can last for over a hundred years. However, remove oxygen for 2 minutes and it will fail permanently. One hit to the head or major artery and its all over. How can a system be that fragile and last for so long?
  • The Earth has supported life for billions of years. Modern civilization has come about in the last ten thousand years. Within that time, (equivalent to 2 minutes in a human beings life) we have seriously changed our environment. From hunting species to extinction to changing the global temperature to developing weapons that could obliterate all land-based life, even the last 200 years have been quite disruptive to our ecosystem.
  • Hurricane Katrina ruined neighborhoods that have stood for hundreds of years within minutes.
  • The volcano in Iceland grounded the entire airline industry in Europe overnight.
  • Think of your own examples, there are many.

Systems are designed to work only in specific circumstances. Change those circumstances and within a couple of minutes a hundred year legacy can come crashing down.  There is a UX lesson in here somewhere.

I think the natural tendency of humans and nature is to design a system that works in the status quo and to under-invest in disaster mitigation.  Backup systems are often ignored or not tested.  Defense measures against systemic failure points are glossed over because they don’t exist in the world of the status quo.  It is against nature to think about things that aren’t in existence at design time.

However, if you can resist human nature…  If you can surpass natural tendencies…  You could design for situations that may arise in the future.

  • Would you put some bone around the major arteries in the body?
  • Would you have a hibernation mode that would allow a person to remain in stasis if the oxygen levels dropped?
  • Would you reinforce the walls of the levies in New Orleans?
  • Would you test the backup/restore system on your servers?

Most people don’t, which means that if you do, you will have an advantage when things change.

Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.
Bobby Knight

Preparing to win means preparing for the status quo AND preparing for change.   Think about it.

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