Elevators and Nosocomial infections

Nosocomial infections are infections that patients contract inside of a hospital, due to contamination or germs present there. A patient undergoing treatment at a hospital is almost always has a weak immune system, which is more susceptible to infection. And the odds of contracting an infection are higher in operation theatres and ICUs. Most likely because those needing to be in the ICU or get operated are in a far more immunocompromised state.

Now ordinarily hospitals are brilliant at spotting and solving hospital related risks and challenges. Having been an examiner for a prestigious award that company, hospital and educational institute teams compete for in areas of innovation and improvement, I have seen the top projects being showcased, and they are impressive. The meticulous tracking and calculating of various data points, identifying causes, finding and implementing solutions, and tracking effectiveness, and then setting up a cycle for continuous improvement.

So it is concerning when nosocomial infections account for 5-10% of all patients in an acute care hospital in the US [+]. And the numbers are even more concerning in India, where our hospitals are far more crowded, with little concern or respect for regulation. Here in India, nosocomial infections are as high as 11-60% in ICUs [+].

While this one is quite obvious, assuming ICU cleanliness follows the highest of standards and procedure, I think a bulk of these infections occur in elevators. Elevators are known to be extremely contaminated, the buttons in particular.While I unfortunately don’t have a broad solution idea to offer for this challenge, I do have some almost obvious suggestions:

  • If a new private hospital is being constructed, try and create an isolated elevator between ICUs and operation theatres. Often, patients are carried for surgery in common elevators, exposing them to every visitor who might have visited someone with another infection, which they are likely to catch
  • Again, for new hospitals yet to be constructed, ideally have the wards frequently visited by visitors on the lower floors, and have sloped ramps for people to walk up and down to those floors (say up to second floor). That way, a bulk of the visitors who would ordinarily use the elevators could be saved, thus perhaps making it economical to dedicate at least one elevator purely for shuttling only patients between  ICU and/or operation theatres.
  • A shield-type enclosure (might look like the mosquito nets for beds) over the patient’s trolley while being moved might help contain their infections and reduce spread while in the elevator
  • Limited options for public hospitals or those with limited budgets, seem to include:
    • stricter laws for visitors,
    • encouraging the use of staircases by visitors,
    • installing affordable disinfection tunnels, and making masks compulsory for visitors
***

This concern was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

An Idea for Food Delivery Services

How most food ordering/ delivery service apps work is, you make your selection, pay (or CoD), and confirm the order.
However, there are occasions (or lack of them) where you might want to order something, but without any time constraint.

These instances might include, remembering to order a birthday cake for tomorrow, or have some starters or dessert sent anytime this evening. In such cases, at present, you’d have to remember or set an alarm to place the order in a broad time bracket.

But what if instead, like with Scheduling a ride with Uber, you could simply place the order in advance, and either pick the day, or a broad time within the day, for when the order could be dropped.

It would be convenient to customers who might risk forgetting or risk ordering too late.
Companies could insist on prepaid orders only.
Companies benefit by being able to bunch orders only when a rider is headed in a particular direction, rather than sending them with a lone minimum order in a direction.

Might help marginally with easing traffic, and make rider trips a little more efficient, while being convenient for customers.

***

This Idea for Food Delivery Services was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I’m simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

Between Optimism and Pessimism

Image: source
 
It helps to have a positive mindset, especially in a crisis or trying time, since those with a negative mindset crumble quickly. But even optimism and some values have their limits, especially if the related (undesirable) circumstances stretches longer than one’s optimism.
 
In junior college, I used to attend these tuition classes. In my batch, were these two buddies from another college. I had become friends with them. One of them was a smoker, and I’d often see the other friend try to reason with him with a real sincerity, to quit smoking. On one or two occasions, when only the non-smoker friend was around, I’d ask him how confident he was of getting his friend to quit smoking. He was very certain about it, and it was reassuring to see the power of friendship.
 
There was a gap of a few months before I met them again during that year. And it was perhaps the last time I met them, during the preparatory tests before the year and the tuition class ended. And when I met them, I saw something I had not factored in. The non-smoker was smoking outside the building.
 
Similarly, I’ve seen friends and relatives languish in jobs they hate, simply because their optimism was regularly fed with hope from their boss, about a promotion or increment or the glorious career path that lay ahead.
 
So if pessimism isn’t desirable, and if optimism has its limits, or can be harmful, what could be an alternative?
 
How about if we simply focused on being efficient? That way, we might be almost equally prepared for both scenarios (good and bad), while working toward the best direction in the best way we can.
 
This obviously isn’t some breakthrough finding. Think about notable individuals in your life. There’s a good chance they are neither pessimistic nor overflowing with optimism. They keep their emotions in check, focusing on doing the best, in the best way they can. Undeterred by outcomes or people’s fickle opinions.
 
Be efficient.

A Forward: What is Butt Dust?

Image: link

I had shared this forward on social media a few years ago, and it popped back up today.

Apart from the innocence, simplicity and being purely hilarious, it is a nice example of the recognition stage of ’empathy’, a term we behaviour and design thinking folk throw around a lot.

Situations we accept in a particular context without a thought, look so different from a child’s perspective.

It helps serve as a reminder that our worldview is not everyone’s worldview.

Enjoy this one:

??
What, you ask, is ‘Butt dust’? Read on and you’ll discover the joy in it! These have to be original and genuine. No adult is, this creative!

JACK (age 3)
was watching his Mom breast-feeding his new baby sister… After a while he asked: ‘Mom why have you got two? Is one for hot and one for cold milk? ‘

MELANIE (age 5)
asked her Granny how old she was… Granny replied she was so old she didn’t remember any more. Melanie said, ‘If you don’t remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six.’

STEVEN (age 3)
hugged and kissed his Mom good night. ‘I love you so much that when you die I’m going to bury you outside my bedroom window.’

BRITTANY (age 4)
had an ear ache and wanted a pain killer. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a child-proof cap and she’d have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: ‘How does it know it’s me?’

SUSAN (age 4)
was drinking juice when she got the hiccups. ‘Please don’t give me this juice again,’ she said, ‘It makes my teeth cough..’

DJ (age 4)
stepped onto the bathroom scale and asked: ‘How much do I cost?’

CLINTON (age 5) was in his bedroom looking worried.
When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, ‘I don’t know what’ll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in it?’

MARC (age 4)
was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: ‘Why is he whispering in her mouth?’

TAMMY(age 4) was with her mother when they met an elderly, rather wrinkled woman her Mom knew. Tammy looked at her for a while and then asked, ‘Why doesn’t your skin fit your face?’

JAMES (age 4) was listening to a Bible story.
His dad read: ‘The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.’ Concerned, James asked: ‘What happened to the flea?’

The Sunday Sermon this Mom will never forget:
‘Dear Lord,’ the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. ‘Without you, we are but dust…’ He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter who was listening, leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice,
‘Mom, what is butt dust?’

The Brave Peacekeepers of Jadotville

The battle known as the Siege of Jadotville, is an almost unbelievable story of grit, leadership, of unwavering loyalty and courage, of calm, and of extraordinary strategy and tactics; especially in the face of deceit, death, incompetence and betrayal.
 
If you haven’t watched the 2016 movie by the same name, you should.
 
Prior to 1959, Belgium held control of the Congo, with exclusive rights on Copper mining, and probably diamond and other mining interests, by way of UMHK, a mining company.
 
In 1959, Belgium announced its plan to grant independence to the Congo by June 1960 (as per an old agreement).
In the months prior to the independence, Belgian and British companies and unions operating in the region got concerned about losing their business interests. They bribed one Moïse Tshombe, a Congolese businessman and leader of a political party in the region, so that policies post independence would be in their favour. Right after independence, Tshombe created the breakaway state called the Republic of Katanga.
 
 Congolese politician and independence leader, Patrice Lumumba won the democratically held election, becoming the first Prime Minister of newly independent Republic of the Congo. His vision was to remove all parasitic foreign presence from the region, to give it and its locals a chance to thrive. This made the local Belgians uncomfortable. Through the UMHK, they further financed Tshombe.
 
A few months later, Lumumba was wrongfully arrested, detained, and for the next month and a half, he was tortured, taken to the Republic of Katanga by Katangan and Belgian officers, and eventually killed and his body gotten rid of. This is despite Soviet pressure on the United Nations to intervene and immediately negotiate his release, the UN lacked the intent to intervene, arguably because individual member countries’ concerns of Lumumba’s increasingly communist views. This surely reminds one of Einsteins thoughts on the infiniteness of human stupidity, where the UN’s inaction traded an opportunity for the region to thrive on its own, in return for continued chaos.
 
 The Belgians then cited unrest in the region, and requested the UN to intervene. This was part of their ploy, with the plan of taking hostage, the UN Peacekeeping party that would be sent. They intended to then trade their release for a way to retain their business interest in the region.
 
Of course, the past few hundred years have probably seen enough such events, with parties driven purely by self-serving interests, irrespective of the costs. This one also included a morally weak and incompetent Irish UN representative, Conor Cruise O’Brien. The UN chose an Irish military company to be sent as the UN Peacekeeping forces.
 
This 155-strong Irish ‘A’ Company had never seen combat before; its youngest soldiers probably in their late teens. It was led by 42-year old Commandant Pat Quinlan. The main UN base was in a place called Elizabethville. Yet, oddly, this Irish ‘A’ Company, was asked to create base in a place near a Belgian settlement called Jadotville. The base was in a highly vulnerable location, an open field with little topographical advantage to the A Company. The Belgian settlers were obviously not welcoming, and the Company had limited supplies, and were provided old (WW-II worthy) weapons.
 
Commandant Quinlan informed his superiors at Elizabethville of the presence of French mercenaries, the lack of supplies, and the high risk of an attack by the local rebels, but was not taken seriously by them. Soon, an unprovoked offensive by another UN Peacekeeping party that took over a Katangese-held radio station in Elizabethville, triggered the larger plot from Tshombe (and his local Katangese rebel forces, funded by the Belgians, and supported by French mercenaries).  And strangely, UN representative Conor O’Brien did not even inform Comm. Quinlan of a possible attack in response to the radio station offensive.
 
So, early on September 13th, 1961, when the Irish troops of A Company were praying in a makeshift church, Tshombe’s men and French mercenaries attacked their base at Jadotville.
 
Any average combatant might have surrendered on that day, given the overwhelming odds of the attacks, and the fact that Katangan rebels had blocked off all routes that could bring additional troops, weapons and ration for these brave 155 soldiers. But not this Company of Pat Quinlan’s. This Company did not have any average combatants.
 
Being a great strategist, Commandant Quinlan had anticipated the risks, and had earlier had his troops dig trenches across the base.
 
Over the next 5 days, countless waves of a total of over 3000 Belgian, French and Rhodesian led Katangan mercenaries attacked the base. And Pat Quinlan and his men defended it, simply because those were his orders. Apart from initial orders from Conor O’Brien to continue to defend the base and the inability to bring in supplies for them, over the next few days, Conor and others at the UN were not even responding to Pat Quinlan’s request for support.
 
Wave after incessant wave of Katangese rebels, French mercenaries, and others, attacked Commandant Quinlan’s base, which he and his men continued to defend. Amidst quickly exhausting food, water, and ammo. Somewhere during those 5 days, a low-flying enemy aircraft was also strafing their base. And all these 155 soldiers had, were old guns and one transport jeep.
 
On the fifth day, Pat Quinlan had to make the tough decision of whether his Company dies here fighting, or to take the rebel’s offer to surrender. Seeing that it was meaningless for his Peacekeeping troops to get meaninglessly slaughtered, and with the UN headquarters still unreachable, Pat Quinlan agreed to an offer to surrender.
 
In those 5 days that A Company defended the Jadotville base against over 3000 mercenaries and rebel fighters, this young Irish Peacekeeping troops defended their base, killed over 300 of the enemy and probably injured over a 1000; while themselves suffering no casualties but only 5 injured soldiers during the entire siege. Such was the brilliance of the strategy, the tactics, and the grit of Commandant Pat Quinlan.
 
Post the surrender, they were imprisoned for a month, before being released.
 
It turned out that a Swedish UN officer had submitted a report to the UN asking them to either send backup or supplies as they were at very high risk of being attacked. This was 12 days before the actual attack. And during that entire duration, the Irish representative at the UN did absolutely nothing to act on the precautionary warning.
 
And if you thought the nightmare of being stuck between the greedy and devious Belgian settlers, shameless French mercenaries, a gutless Irish UN representative, and a dangerous rebel fighters ended there; you are mistaken. It had only begun. The worst came once they were safe back home in Ireland.
 
Their government and army refused to bestow medals for their superhuman courage. And worse, they were shunned by the army and public alike. The people believed they had brought disgrace to them and the country by surrendering.
 
What average mortals did not see or understand, was that this was a devious geo-political issue, and that the A Company was sent on a poorly equipped ‘Peacekeeping’ mission (with emphasis on ‘Peace’), and not as a regular army company. And that the A-Company wasn’t hung out to dry, they were hung out to die, and then ostracized simply because they didn’t.
 
While the late Colonel Pat Quinlan and some of the 155 soldiers were not alive to watch the 2016 movie, or their government creating a small memorial to the siege; the greatness of Pat Quinlan and his soldiers is not dependent on the support, vote of confidence or approval of lesser mortals who were incapable of seeing the situation they were put in, and how they emerged out of, by taking the absolute best path that was humanly possible.
 
If you would like to read more about the happenings surrounding the Siege of Jadotville, try these two books:
  1. Heroes of Jadotville: The Soldiers’ Story – written by Pat Quinlan’s son (Leo) and niece (Rose Doyle)!
  2. Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle – by Declan Power

 

Image: source

WT f UX

Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
 
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
 
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
 
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
 
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
 
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.

This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
 
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
 
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
 
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
 
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
 
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
 
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
 
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
 
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.

Constraints and the beautiful A-10

Image: source

Contrary to popular belief:

  1. constraints help make better products (or services), and
  2. a good innovative product or service does not need to be expensive

As a young kid, one thing I was good at, was identifying fighter jets just looking at their pictures. Especially American ones. In fact, with American jets, a look at the tail section, canopy or nose and I could tell an F-14 Tomcat from an F-15 Eagle, among many other jets. Each fighter design seemed to speak of a unique personality.

In the past month though, I have been overly fascinated by another American jet from the 1970’s.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Or simply the A-10 or Warthog. Developed as a close air support jet during the Cold War, and there dozens of reasons that make the A-10 an exceptionally designed machine.

During the Cold War, there was the need to defend a 50-kilometre region called the Fulda Gap, from a potential Soviet advance. To do so, in addition to tank regiments, the US needed a low-flying jet that could protect its tanks and troops, while being capable of causing sizeable damage to enemy tanks. Flying close to the ground, such a jet also (obviously!) needed to be able to protect its pilot and survive missions. And, just like in WWII, in case of a possible escalation in the Cold War, the winning side would be the one that was designed for quantity (ability to quickly manufacture and deploy, or repair and reuse) as opposed to quality. So, another requirement criteria was to have a jet that could be easily fixed, with affordable and easily available spares.

Imagine you were tasked with designing such a jet. Doesn’t it already sound like quite a limiting list of constraints?

To top it, the Americans had also chosen the main gun that would be used on such a jet (before knowing what such a jet itself might look like). The gun was the 30 mm General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon; a real monster. Fully loaded and with its feed system, it measured nearly 6 metres, and weighed 1.8 tonnes!

However, what emerged despite this tall-list of requirements (or constraints), was the incredible and unique looking A-10. Every design aspect aligned with its purpose – close air support, protect ground troops & artillery, destroy tanks, protect the pilot, survive being shot at. Placement of its twin turbofan engines reduced its heat signature to enemy missiles. Its cockpit was a titanium tub that protected its pilot from ground fire, even when the plane itself was badly damaged. Its low stall speed and high maneuverability allowed for close range attack. More in the fascinating video at the end of the post.

For now, let’s focus on 3 things:
1. Constraints,
2. Affordability of the solution, and
3. Advantages of a clearly defined purpose (and focus). 

The A-10 was the first and probably the last close air support jet developed by the US. However, the latest jet in their fleet, the F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be a far more advanced plane which, at least in theory, has the ability to replace the A-10s. A direct comparison does sound a bit absurd at first, like trying to compare an old pickup with a Tesla Cybertruck. But that’s for the Cybertruck to defend.

The A-10 came into service in 1977, and despite some discussions to discontinue it in the past decade or two, given its continued relevance, affordable flight time and maintenance; performance upgrades now enable them to serve till at least 2028. The F-35 came into service in 2015, and while expected to be in service till 2070, there are already many concerns, from its initial delay and escalated project cost, to its high flying time and maintenance related costs.

The F-35 has the obvious edge on several specifications when compared to the old 1970’s A-10. Consider the following:

A-10 (introduction to service: 1977):

  • Cost: $3 million (equivalent to $21.2 million today), Unit cost: US$1.4 million ($9.3 million today)
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 741 Km/h
  • Travel range: 4148 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.68 km/litre
  • Take-off / Landing distance: 945m / 610m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 22950 Kg. / 7257 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 7257 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 20,000
    source: link

F-35 (introduction to service: 2015)

  • Cost: between $94 million (F-35A) and $122 million
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 1932 Km/h
  • Travel range: 2778 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.46 km/litre
  • Take-off/ Landing distance: 168m / 213m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 31751 Kg. / 8160 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 10448 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 36,000
    source: link

As the A-10 was meant for attacking ground targets with its gun, it was designed to be able to fly at a slow 222 km/h without stalling. In contrast, while the F-35 can even hover in one position; but being a stealth fighter, is not exactly meant to be too close to enemy sites. The price difference between the two is obviously glaring. The A-10 costs $21 mil, the F-35, $122 mil. While the F-35 is a third more fuel efficient than the A-10, it is almost twice as expensive to fly an F-35 per hour, than the A-10. While the F-35 would certainly be relevant in a high-tech war against, say a China or Russia, for its regular action in the middle east, it is a very expensive overkill.

The A-10 was built in a time of a specific need, with numerous other constraints in mind. And that resulted in an innovative product that not just catered well to those needs, but as a result continues to stay relevant even today.

The F-35 in comparison, was built in more peaceful times, without perhaps a sharp focus on its intended purpose. And the result was an expensive Swiss army knife that isn’t too great in most of the individual specific roles it might be called in for.

To wrap it up simply, constraints can do wonders to the development of a truly innovative solution (the A-10). And just because a solution has exceptional features and capability, does not necessarily mean it is the greatest of all time (F-35), as has been proven by all the doubt looming over the F-35 project merely 6 years into service, while the 44-year old A-10’s service is already being considered for extension to 2040 or beyond.

Check out this incredible video about the A-10.

 Alternate title for this post was: Brrrrrrrrrrrrt

Exploitative Businesses & Divine (and Tech) Interventions

When I wrote ‘Design the Future’ about Design Thinking, it had a brief overview of the behavioural aspects of innovation – from an innovator’s and user’s perspective.
 
There was a mention of nudges (not sure I used the term though).
I have been of the (possibly obvious) view that, as companies get increasingly sneaky, especially when selling ill-health or stuff we don’t necessarily need, that despite how creative their marketing gets, customers too keep pace by becoming resistant to the nudges.
 
I also think the Ben Franklin Effect probably wears off, and that people aren’t exactly suckers to keep giving. Of course, it varies for people, their preferences, value trade-off, etc.
 
Unless business are sincerely trying to benefit or create a good habit in customers, I’ve personally never been a fan of exploitative nudges. Which is why, while some soft drink or fast food ads and initiatives are creative and impressive, you know it isn’t promoting something great in customers.
 
Two recent events seemed to be a sort of divine intervention to nudges and business practices that aren’t exactly in the best interest of customers.
 
First, Cristiano Ronaldo removing Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference at the Euros coinciding with a $4bn fall in the company’s share price. Nothing against the company in particular, but not a fan of global giants that proudly continue to promote ill-health.
 
The Second, email marketing. While useful to businesses including mine to spread the word, it also has become increasingly sneaky in that they closely track numerous user interactions. I recently got an email about an offer. Opened the email because the subject line was interesting, but immediately realized I didn’t need it. Instantly, the next mail appears, asking if there was something missing in the offer (previous mail). That was pushing it.
 
As per developments discussed at Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that ended about a week ago, Apple will be putting more limitations on email marketing and in-app advertising. They’ll likely be preventing marketers from knowing when users have accessed their emails, among other features.
 
During a recent project with a company trying to create a positive habit in customers, the analytics team had a list of around 140 data points/actions on the app to track. I found some more to take the tally to 200. While the overarching service is beneficial to customers, I wasn’t overly proud of my contribution and faced the moral dilemma of whether we should track so much, or simply create a more effective user experience that might achieve the dual objective: one for the customer and one for the company.
 
Interesting how some businesses offer invasive tech to businesses, and other businesses offer defense against such tech in the form of new features on their products.
 
 

Hyperboles and Statistics don’t Mix Well

Do you use hyperboles often?
I do. Mostly with close friends and family, but when necessary, with clients or my students. Helps convey the meaning or gravity of an idea or situation.

Like when Gordon Murray says something like,
“Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because you didn’t fucking cook it!”

However, when you’re in a responsible position and you’re talking statistics about an important matter, hyperboles (obviously!) do more damage than good.

What’s your favourite or funniest hyperbole you’ve used?

Mine are usually said in the moment, so I don’t really remember them later.
But one I’ve used a few times with clients who create assumptions on a business model and then go on to create multiple layers of assumptions atop those assumptions, I’ve said something like, ‘now, it’s like you’re trying to pick curtains for the windows of your castle in the sky.’

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