Why the Zero Defect mentality will never work

At least, not in real life:

The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time. If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run. Even NASA’s vaunted moonshot, so often referred to as the best of government innovation, tested with dozens of unmanned missions first, several of which failed outright.

Failure is always an option. Engineers work as hard as they do because they understand the risk of failure. And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying “Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.”

via » Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality Clay Shirky.

Healthcare has this idiocy. It’s a disconnect between the doers, who will tell you what’s possible, and the managers, who either don’t know or don’t remember.

Leaders, by the way, would know the difference.  Need more of those.


  1. I must be one of the few patients who understands this. Give me a doc who can apologize and fix a mistake between us, and I’m a happy camper. I’ve paid for treatments that didn’t work out, but at least the doc gave it their best shot. That’s all I ask. Glad to see that a doc knows that they were human before earning the MD. A human will understand me, help me to get better. An ego will care about their career, workplace, paycheck and I might fit in there somewhere.

  2. The zero defect mentality is what keeps lawyers busy.