Sunday, January 11, 2004

There's Safety in Being Nimble

My mother-in-law passed on to me a singularly fascinating article Friday by Malcom Gladwell of "Tipping Point" fame. Published in The New Yorker (not available on line, but here is a summary of the article ), Gladwell cited research by Wenzel and Ross concluding that SUV's are not as safe as most people think.

Why did this catch my eye? Two things. First, the authors defined safety as the sum of number of fatalities to the driver of the vehicle and deaths of drivers of the cars they hit in an accident. It is not just how safe the driver is also what happens to the other driver. This is analogous to looking at the enterprise as a whole, not just individual machine or department efficiencies.

Second was their conclusions. While the data were a bit cumbersome, what they show is anything but.

It is safer to be in a nimble vehicle than a merely big vehicle.
In other words, the ability of the car/driver "system" to maneuver around a tough situation saves many cases more so than just surviving the impact in a big pile of steel.

Fascinatingly, the "nimble" cars were not universally small and the "cumbersome" vehicles not universally huge. Rather, it seems that the design of car, suspension, brakes, handling to make a vehicle nimble is the key. Their best? The Toyota Avalon and the Chrysler Town & Country. The worst? Pontiac Sunfire and Ford F-series pickup.

Does the theme ring a bell? Could it be that a responsive vendor is "safer" than huge inventory? Could it be that a manufacturing system that prevents errors is "safer" than a great inspection system? Could it be that a culture that lets people change and modify their own work plans is "safer" than a culture of central planning? Could it be that counting results for the whole system leads us to better actions than making each function efficient on its own?

Sue, thanks for the article. I hope you too find this is helpful.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

No comments: