Leadership

Peter Cochrane's Blog: The obsession that's throttling business

Chasing peak performance is expensive and all too often turns out to be fatal...

...the wear-out and death phase come in earlier and earlier.

Bathtub curve
Image: Peter Cochrane

On another dimension we can map performance or output as a function of time or even versatility and functionality. To get really high performance, every component has to be honed, which leads to it becoming more and more focused on a single role. On the other hand, for reliability and resilience, we would like to see some load-sharing or multitasking capabilities built in. But as ever, higher performance has an unavoidable cost in terms of a reduced lifetime.

Bathtub curve
Image: Peter Cochrane

For these reasons, and years of design and management experience, I feel my blood run cold when I see optimisation being taught in business schools and slavishly implemented by unthinking and unknowing managers and accountants. Chasing peak performance is an expensive race, and all too often turns out to be fatal.

Finally, the mode of failure is another feature that is often overlooked, and in many cases it comes abruptly and without precursor or any form of warning. Blindly designing systems and optimising organisations without any system performance insights can therefore lead to some very interesting management surprises.

In good engineering design you have to consider all these issues and make wise choices about the particular application. For example, the operational lifetime of a ground-to-air missile may only be 30 seconds, while a passenger aircraft could be 40 years.

So as a manager you have to decide whether your company is a missile or a passenger aircraft.

Bathtub curve
Image: Peter Cochrane

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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