I was distracted at work the other day, recalling the simpler times of my youth. Days when you played tackle football in your backyard, and knew what “losers walk” meant. When neighborhood dogs ran free. When after the game if you yelled “Brandy” at the top of your lungs, three golden retrievers in addition to your own came running. The reverie was so distracting that I redlined a document against not a clean draft but another redline. This is to document processing what dividing by zero is to mathematicians. It’s simply not done.
Instantly transported through the space-time continuum, I found myself in a dimly lit room with Abe Lincoln and Rory Calhoun, who were arm-wrestling. Ringo Starr sang Octopus’s Garden, which was weird because he’s not even dead. And then just as quickly, I was whisked back to the present. Was I ever really there at all? I think so, because I no longer have my iPhone (which fascinated our 16th President) but I do have his signature stove-pipe hat which, authenticity aside, is not fetching a fair price on eBay. So not a bad experience, but not what I intended.
This leaves me with two observations to share. First, there surely are worse places than my office to lose focus – at the CDC, for instance, when taking your bag lunch out of a break room refrigerator — but nevertheless, don’t redline distracted. And second, even the world’s greatest innovations can have glitches. Why is this? Why bring a product to market before its time? The answer lies in the failure to heed some advice my mom gave me years ago: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
As life lessons go, this seems fairly obvious. Yet so often it’s forgotten. I realize this every time a consumer product I’ve spent precious shekels on lets me down. Say I have a wealth of television viewing options at my fingertips, all of which I can see theoretically but none of which I can see actually because of buffering. How could this problem not have been addressed? Even in Shaving Razor R&D, which pretty much consists of adding a blade every few years and slapping a Latinate name on the handle, they don’t release a razor known in Quality Control as “Bloody Sunday.” I suspect toward the end of product development a conversation like this went down:
Chief Executive (to software developers): Alright, whiz-kids. No more dilly-dallying, let’s be first to launch our product. Remember, one must never let the perfect be the enemy of the very good.
Personal Chef (delivering CEO’s lunch): Sir, I just noticed the apples in your chicken salad are sliced, not diced. I’m so sorry. This won’t happen again.
Chief Executive (to chef): You can say that again, Wolfgang – turn in your apron. There’s a saying around here: if my lunch isn’t perfect, it’s your a**. Now get out of my sight. (To developers). Where were we?
A mixed message to be sure, but the developers get the joke – less coding, more selling. Whose fault is this, cable? Internet? The Dutch? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is when I ordered my television package, I should not have had to express my desire to watch movies in more than three minute increments. To this day I don’t know whether I hated Shutter Island because it was a bad movie or because it took me seven hours to watch. Perhaps I’ll buffer my monthly cable payment and see how the boys in Accounts Receivable like it.
Which brings us back to the simpler days of yore. Back in the Eighties they owned up to first-to-market mistakes. Remember VCR tracking problems? At the beginning of your movie the picture jumped around more than a Winnetka sophomore at an Oingo Boingo concert. Now, show of hands, who remembers how tracking problems were fixed? That’s right, by you getting up off the couch and pushing the tracking button on your VCR. Not exactly a Profile in Customer Service, this solution. But you know what? At least they tried. You kind of have to respect their moxie.
We don’t even get that kind of self-help anymore. No, when it comes to buffering we’re supposed to make like REO Speedwagon and ride the storm out. So pay attention, Candidates Trump and Clinton. Here’s what I’m looking for in my President: My fellow Americans, if I’m elected, there will be no more buffering delays on your television. Also, you’ll never get a credit card receipt with an automatic tip line for a service that couldn’t possibly have warranted a gratuity. Rent-a-Tux. Plasma Clinic. Division of Motor Vehicles. The candidate who says this has my vote instantly. No buffering.