Planning for Failure (Part II)

Photo by ‘PixelPlacebo’ |

The following is a modification of a speech that I presented last week. I know that it is quite long, but I hope it is valuable.

"Being interested in success means learning to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of getting to the top."

What valuable words shared by Dr. Joyce. It sounds inspirational, encouraging and motivating…it sounds like really great advice…well at least to the untrained ear. 

If Dr. Joyce’s message is taken too literally, it can lead to very problematic outcomes for the world as we know it.

Why you may ask? Well, knowledge can be transmitted into the wrong hands and power can be misused.  Being interested in success does NOT ALWAYS mean that failure should play a role in getting to the top. Planned obsolescence, perceived obsolescence, and systemic obsolescence are three primary ways in which this theory can be misused, contributing to severe consequences, both for individual selves and our collective society.

Planned obsolescence. “ A policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or non-functional after a certain period of time. It instills in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary

In other words:  Planning for failure. 

It is a plan to drive society into a phase of mindless consumption; a phase of buying the same products over and over and over again.  Why? Because they are made to last a short period of time.  And because we humans get attached to our material goods in such a little span of time that it is no surprise that we may feel as though we just can’t live without it! 

It is very interesting how planned obsolescence has managed to stick its dirty little head into just about every object on the market, from cell phones, to laptops, to ink cartridges, to water bottles.

It makes me wonder how much garbage we produce because of planned obsolescence.  How much gas we use to get to the store to buy something we’ve bought thirty times prior.  How much time we waste.  Just think about how many light bulbs you’ve purchased in the past year....How many electronics.. How many appliances……backpacks……cellphones……electric tools…….

Have you thought about all the packaging these products come in?  Have you considered how far they travel to get on our shelves?  How much pollution is produced in that trip?

It affects the planet a lot more than you think it does. 

And, all of this isn’t entirely our fault.  How can we blame ourselves for needing a functional computer?   How would we ever survive through school and work if we did not have an up-to-date computer?  It would be virtually impossible.  

But, I’m so tired of our products being made with planned obsolescence as its heart and soul.  We can’t run a circular system in a finite world!  It just doesn’t work.  And, frankly, that’s why we’re faced with all of these environmental issues.  It’s simply because we are trying to produce more than we need and/or can handle.          

The rationale behind the strategy of planned obsolescence is to generate long-term sales by reducing the time between repeat purchases. Firms that pursue this strategy believe that with the additional sales revenue, it creates more benefits than drawbacks (in regards to the costs of research and development of new, innovative products).

Now, what does that mean for us? Well, it means that because products are made to fail after a specific point in time, we’ll be spending a lot more time at the mall looking for new items, than enjoying the value of the products we have already purchased.     

Now how about perceived obsolescence: the policy of deliberately planning and designing products and items to dilute out of fashion before a pre-conceived amount of time.

In other words: planning for failure.

Fashion trends go in and out. One year the chunky heel in style and then out of nowhere it simply disappears from the picture and the stiletto makes its come back! Generally, we just fall into this vicious cycle of desiring the coolest thing on the market.  

For example,

Do we need a computer?  Yes.

Do we need a cell phone?  Probably.

Do we need the new Macbook Air if our old PC is still working?

Do we need the iPhone 4 when we already have the iPhone 3?

Maybe not.  

By desiring these items and prescribing to these trends, we fall into perceived obsolescence, further contributing to over-consumption and waste.

As a direct example of this, consider a fashion company: the designers tell a bunch of people that X is out and Y is in. Each of those people tell more people; until such time that enough people were told that those who continued to wear the clothes were considered out of style. We believe it, internalize it. And then proceed to purchase these new clothes that are considered “trendy” in order to remain "cool"; leaving other “out-of-style” but perfectly good clothing hanging in our closets as moth fodder.

Perceived obsolescence, the art of tricking us into fashion trends, getting us to buy items that we likely don’t need but feel obligated to purchase anyway.

Seems crazy don't you think? Highly intelligent beings falling for such an obvious scheme for us to part with our cash and impart further strain on the environment simply for the need to "look good" and “be in style”?

But it happens every day, in every community, every society, and nearly every country.

And, to just top off this situation, there’s systemic obsolescence: the deliberate attempt to make a product obsolete by altering the system in which it is used. To alter it in such a way as to make its continued use difficult, if not impossible.

In other words: planning for failure.

This happens frequently in the world of software, where new programs are designed in such a way that it is incompatible with older software. Thus, making the older software largely obsolete. Even though the older versions maybe operating correctly, it won’t be able to read the data saved by newer versions.

For example, Microsoft word. Although older versions operate correctly, they may not be able to read the data saved by newer versions. I’m sure that we have all experienced the trouble of trying to open a 2007 version of our Power point on a computer that is equipped with the 2003 version. It becomes a laborious attempt that is truly unachievable.

But do these tactics contribute to success? Perhaps from the perspective of the companies that make these products…………it does. After all, to them, money means success. But what about for us? For the planet? For future generations? I think it is very much like running on a hamster wheel, an arm’s race where the prize is a decimated environment.

So there you have it: three ways in which being interested in success does not mean that you must consider failure as a healthy part of getting to the top. Planned obsolescence, perceived obsolescence, and systemic obsolescence are ways in which companies trick us into picking up habits such as over-consumption. So, be smart and be aware of the ways in which marketing techniques can be used for harm. Be your own success story by thinking critically before making purchases and thus refusing to fall into trends.  By becoming more educated consumers, we can enjoy higher value and have less environmental impacts.

After all, products are made to fail, but you certainly don’t have to. You can plan for success without including failure. And as Thomas Huxley said, the only real medicine for the woes of mankind, is wisdom.