Saturday, July 09, 2011

More Than Meets the Eye

The famous modern adage says: "If it ain't broken, don't fix it." It is a phrase to urge people to leave 'working' matters or structures alone. It tells those who want to improve or to put additional features, to back off. In other words, if something is still working, why try to change the status quo?

I have learned through the years that the only thing that is constant is 'change.' There is no such thing as permanent, or unchanging. Careers change. Circumstances change.  People change. Anything or everything can change, albeit at different points of time. Two news pieces remind me again about the inadequacy of the above adage. If something is not 'broken,' can it mean its brokenness has not been discovered yet?

A) Two Examples
(Photo Credit:
The power utilities company in British Columbia, BCHydro, earlier this week had a major mishap. Two tall electrical towers collapsed, taking down power lines supplying power to major cities like Surrey, New Westminster, and as far as Abbotsford. Interestingly, just before the collapse, engineers have just given the thumbs up after their regular maintenance and inspections. Yet, at around 8.30pm on a Monday (July 4th, 2011), two towers collapse. Unfortunately, the collapse and the blackout is only the beginning. It triggers a host of problem discoveries. First, they learn that the foundations of the towers are not as secure as they thought. Second, the authorities realize that the Towers may not be covered by insurance. Third, the media reports on more 'concerns' about the Towers. For an infrastructure that has just been checked off for safety and usability, it takes one event to trigger a host of other events. There is more than meets the eye.

The second thing to hit the headlines this week is the hacking scandal endorsed by the management of the 168-year old, News of the World publication. What started it all are revelations about a phone hacking scandal. The discovery of a phone hacking attempt by the News of the World on a missing girl, was the straw that broke the camel's back. One thing leads to another. After hacking into Milly Dowler's voicemail account, reports say they manipulated the contents. Not only did the journalists break the privacy laws, even the management approves the attempt. Then we start to realize that that was not the first. The same tactic has been used on other news events, like violating the privacy of family victims over a London air bombing news. All of these in the interest of new news. One thing leads to another. Like a thief whose first theft was undiscovered, the News of the World uses the same method to pry into the private information of other people, believing that they will not be easily found out. Whatever fame and credibility brought about in the past, this one event causes the collapse of a media icon, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

B) Learning Points

I believe we all have an obligation to do things right from the start. We can learn from the Quality Control Circles experts that say: "Do it right, the first time. Everytime." Likewise, constant improvement should be done regardless of the risk of failure. Without risk, one may escape the likelihood of failure, but it may merely be storing up the potential for failure later. Everything has consequences. The difference is in terms of time and circumstances. What we ought to learn from the above two events is that in life, is that we live in a very fragile world. The second lesson is that there is no such thing as permanent, or life-long security. We see that huge financial institutions can collapse overnight, like ING Barings in the UK, or the recent financial catastrophe due to the housing subprime crisis in the US. It is not difficult to even dig out how political bigwigs fall just because one single incident started it all.

The third lesson is that we need to let wisdom speak louder than worldly might. There is no room for complacency. We live in a world where power and riches speak louder that the poor and the weak. Wisdom knows no bounds. Like the proverb below, the wise man is not necessarily one who is rich. More often than not, it comes through the mouths of the poor, the vulnerable, even babes.

So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. (Eccl 9:16)

Perhaps, if there is a final lesson, it is this. We are not masters of our own destinies. Whatever we do, we cannot make guarantees in this life. Let that spur innovation and improvement. Let that motivate us to do better than the previous. Let that encourage us that the best is yet to be. Otherwise, we will be building a hill that resembles the camel's back. It sets us out for failure. All it takes is a spark or a straw, and our perceived house of stability will come tumbling down.

There is only one true security. That is God.


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