Working in the field of process improvement one gains a powerful lens through which to view processes and society — one demanding greater empathy. You learn to analyze all systems as an engineer and recognize the host of dynamic variables that impact them. When something doesn’t go right it is often our first reaction to seek out the responsible party — one version might include internalizing the phrase “who fucked up?” … or not internalizing it.
This type of finger-pointing is a fallacy. By objectively analyzing systems one quickly realizes that even the most blatant errors can often be diagnosed as a symptom of poor design. By focussing on the individuals operating within them (cogs in a wheel) and not the inherent shortcomings of the system itself we miss the greater opportunity. The real questions we should be asking are “how is this error possible?” or “why do we still do it this way?”.
This reality is not limited to service-oriented processes or product design but applies to all facets of life and society.
I would consider any instance of an infant being electrocuted by a wall-socket a HUGE ‘error’. This should never happen under any circumstances. That said, if such a horrific instance were to occur, would we blame the child? I certainly would not. I would likely look at the environment provided by the childs caretaker(s). Did they use socket caps? Put couches and furniture in front of such outlets? Leave door open to rooms with active open sockets? etc.
While all of these are seemingly reasonable questions to ask a far more productive question is “why are children at risk of being hurt by modern electrical sockets?”. Could it be that these ports could be better designed to never allow children the risk of being electrocuted? Why not have them placed higher on the walls, designed in a child-proof manner to prevent the insertion of foreign objects, or completely eliminate the need for hard-wired devices through the creation of ‘super-batteries’? By addressing these issues the opportunity for human-error is removed and thus the root-cause of the problem is directly addressed. In this case the root cause is not that children stick their fingers in outlets — it is that outlets allow the possibility of electrocution.
I see such themes playing out today with regards to the state of the world, decentralization and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin but also realize it will take time for society to recognize that it’s less about punishing the bad actors now as it is making such ‘bad acts’ impossible in the future. This can be displayed by various examples of modern ‘bad acts’, the reactive costs they result in, and some potential solutions made possible by applications of decentralization and blockchain tech:
I am not naive enough to claim such applications will solve all of the worlds problems — but it can certainly improve if not solve many of them. Furthermore, it is likely that by addressing the root causes of these issues (the fact that we live in a world where it is possible to steal identities, manipulate markets, rig elections, suppress freedoms) we may avoid a host of costly reactions society incurs today. Hackers will always exist as long as they can achieve success. Dishonest bankers will always scheme (cough! cough! — Goldman Sachs) – literally its what they’re paid to do and quite frankly I wouldn’t expect a good moral compass to be a job requirement, quite the opposite in fact – as long as they believe they can keep their dealings from the public eye. Power hungry dictators will always exist, even more so when they can rig elections.
A child will always be at risk of electrocuting themselves in a room full of open outlets but a room where outlets are no longer necessary poses no risk. Similarly, a world where the results of a nations first democratic election can not be manipulated but are cryptographically verifiable is a better one. A world where the manipulation of a nations monetary supply to the detriment of its citizens by a minority (intentions good or bad) is no longer possible is a better one. A world where proof that your government is torturing people can not be deleted or covered up — rather can be freely shared on a secure and distributed database is a better one.
There are a lot of wrongs in the world today. In a perfect world those responsible would be brought to account. That being said – I believe the way to truly create a brighter future is not by focussing on the bad actors of the past, but by making it harder (or impossible) for the bad actors of the future to accomplish bad acts. I truly believe blockchain technology will lead to a more honest and transparent future — here’s to error-proofing the fundamentals of modern society; democracy, our financial system and beyond. I have a feeling blockchain tech will be crucial to this.