Knowing Too Much


Some 37 years ago, I graduated from university, a freshly minted know-it-all. Degrees in hand, I entered the world of precision metal forming and machining as a line engineer and metrology technician (I figured out how to measure stuff and build equipment to do so – when we got a new project, I worked with the process and design guys to provide a package of measurement solutions for each step of the process).

I sallied forth, a happy warrior full of book learnin’, W. Edwards Deming, Taguchi and statistical process control dogma…and ran head on into our plant manager of 30 years who was a true tooling artisan and someone with more knowledge in his little finger than existed in books. Everything I read about, he had seen…and knew how to handle.

This man’s name was Deward Stimpson and he taught me more about how things work than any other person in my life.

And I will never forget one specific thing he taught me.

We were in a stringent discussion about a particular stage of a process and I had designed a piece of hardware to measure some critical dimensions and had used digital technology to measure to four decimal places to the right of the decimal point where before, analog methods only went to three. The operators were having a hell of a time keeping the equipment adjusted to keep it between the upper and lower statistical limits, so Dewey was having an issue with the lost productive time now that the operators were fighting the equipment.

Dewey had run this product for years and never had the issues we were having and sure enough, I got with the process engineers and we ran process capability studies on the equipment and found that what we were specifying was beyond the capability of the particular piece of equipment but the downstream process could tolerate the variation without causing a problem.

Dewey’s response – “Smith, remember what I told you about your stuff? Sometimes, you can know too much and make a problem where there was none.”

He was right. Making it better than it was, was going to be costly, time consuming – and in the end, the finished product was not going to be improved to any measurable degree – mostly because the weapons system it was deployed in was already designed to accommodate greater variation than we could ever produce in order to function in difficult environments.

In the end, we were fighting ourselves and creating our own variation by over-adjusting a pace of equipment in an effort that was not necessary to the quality of the finished product. It was futile, useless and costly.

I was thinking about Dewey today as I watched footage of yet another grievance mongering individual bitching about yet another perceived slight to their psyche and it occurred to me that the gray beards of activism have taught generations of “community organizers” that no issue is worth agitating about unless you can get angry about it.

And it has reached the point where anger, even feigned anger, is enough justification to condemn America.

The progressive left has discovered the mythical self-licking ice cream cone. Anger is the input AND the outcome.

I think it is inarguable that our society has truly progressed so far in so many ways that it is quite possibly the most fair, most equal and provides the most individual liberty of any society in the history of any nation of our size and diversity.
It’s a lot like that process I spoke of earlier, it had some variation but was doing just fine within its own limits – we didn’t start thinking we had problems until we started refining the way we looked at it. In other words, we started looking at the process with a microscope and Voila!, we started finding variations we defined as problems – that weren’t. In other words, we created our own issue.

The fact is that America has solved and resolved so many issues, “activists” are breaking out the microscope to find problems that aren’t real. They are inventing issues just so they can meet the threshold of anger that they have been taught identifies something as a problem worthy of protest.

The worst variation is that which we unnecessarily create.

We, as Americans, need to step back, throw away the microscope, and focus on how good the final product really is. We need to understand that while variation is always present, it is natural and not always enough to impact the quality of the end product.

America is a weapons system designed to accept a high degree of variation and still perform flawlessly.

Proving that sometimes, you CAN know too much.

2 thoughts on “Knowing Too Much

  1. It’s also a fact that the activists of today despise America’s founding principles, and will berate our ideals and our accomplishments because of the sins of a century ago … sins that have been atoned for many times over.

  2. “Sometimes, you can know too much and make a problem where there was none.”
    That is what I have always tried to model my life by, but that was better put than how I always stated it.

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