The power of ZERO

I am not sure if this is a true story, but it’s really really good, so I’ll just assume it’s the truth, and convey it anyway – Because it contains lessons that I think are important.

This happened after World War II, sometimes in the 1950s or something. An American car manufacturer wanted to offshore the creation of some of their components. They had done the math on it, and found that they could save a lot of money by having some Japanese subcontractor create a specific part for their cars. Naturally sceptic, since this was the first time something like this was attempted, they wrote an extremely detailed specification to their Japanese subcontractor, to make sure everything was taken care of. At the bottom of the specification it specified a fault tolerance of 2%, implying they had a margin for error that was maximum 2%.

6 months later, and the Japanese subcontractor was finished with the delivery, and it arrived at some port in America with a boat. The American company was eager to see the results, so they sent a representative down to the harbour to inspect the results. In the shipment, there was one huge package, and a tiny package next to it. The guy who was sent to collect the parts scratched his head, and didn’t understand why there was a smaller package next to the big one, until he read the letter the Japanese car manufacturer had sent together with the delivery. It read …

“We have no idea why you want to have 2% errors, but you can find your 2% errors in the smaller package”

For the Japanese subcontractor, simply the idea of delivering something that wasn’t 100% perfect, was so incomprehensible, that they didn’t even have a vocabulary or mindset that allowed for fault tolerance. Their fault tolerance was always ZERO, period!

We need more people to think like this, especially in the Software Industry …