Just in Time

One of the ever-increasing problems created by technology – and especially the internet and cellphones – is a failure, particularly by the younger generations, to understand that waiting until the last moment can be a problem, sometimes even a disaster. I’m perfectly well aware that procrastination has been a fault in every “younger” generation since before the time of Plato, but from what I’m observing, that particular fault seems to be lasting longer among the young and spreading to a greater segment of the population.

Part of the reason for this, I’m personally convinced, is because of the “instant” nature of communications. Especially in the high-tech world, one can reach people immediately, and more and more businesses are expecting their employees to be available electronically all the time. As I’ve noted elsewhere, this has some considerable downsides, but one of those downsides I haven’t mentioned in any depth is that such communications expectations lead to other expectations, particularly that physical products and goods can be available equally swiftly.

In this regard, Amazon has also been fostering unrealistic expectations. It’s one thing to be able to pack and ship an existing product in less than twenty-four hours; it’s something entirely different to be able to create something unique in the same period, or to write a detailed analysis about something new, with which the analyst has had no experience, in the same period. In short, doing the work actually takes far more time than one-day shipping the product, or electronically zapping an analysis to whoever needs it.

My wife the professor sees this all the time. Students think that they can learn a piece of complex music overnight or at least in a few days. They think they can write papers overnight… and they indeed can, except that such papers seldom make sense because they simply throw things together because they haven’t spent time doing the background study necessary.

Then there’s the associated problem. All this technology that we use today has a far higher failure rate than the old-fashioned manual typewriter did…and when that’s combined with waiting until the last moment… is it really anyone else’s fault when your hard drive fails at four in the morning because you put everything off? Is it anyone else’s fault if the internet goes down for the two hours just before the deadline for acceptance of the paper, project, grant application, or whatever? Or that the color printer runs out of toner and the office supply store won’t be open until nine o’clock?

This just doesn’t happen to students. Boeing screwed up the production of its new 787 because the company decided to outsource manufacturing and relied on “just in time” delivery. It became such a disaster that Boeing had to build more facilities to manufacture certain key components. The “instant” aspects of technology aren’t infallible, and they’re only part of the process, and everything requires lead time and planning – something that all too many people from students even to engineers seem to be forgetting.

10 thoughts on “Just in Time”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    It bleeds over into other parts of life as well. In medicine, healing isn’t instantaneous: if you have a life-threatening pneumonia, you’re going to be weak and feel horrible for several days to several weeks after the infection is done. Same thing for heart attacks and strokes. A broken bone AND THE BODY IN GENERAL takes time to heal.

    I commonly hear “I don’t have time for this” from patients who have injured themselves in various ways. If they’d slowed down a bit, paid more attention, and/or taken the time to do the thing properly…. my job would be much easier (and I’d have fewer funny stories to tell as well).

  2. Robert The Addled says:

    It’s also the outsourcing of processes that were once in-house.

    Electrical grid for example – NO US FACILITY EXISTS for manufacturing the large transformers for switching stations. Plus there is a multi-year lead time. So a hypothetical WWII style world trade blockade would allow enemy agents to disable swaths of the national electrical grid.

    Or a large high-cost part that is needed every couple years (maybe engines for cargo ships) – the vendor went under (your company wasn’t buying enough) so now you have hulls but nothing to push with. This delays your product, and raises production costs significantly.

  3. invah says:

    One of the failings of insta-access is the belief that instant information equates to instant understanding (or instant wisdom). There’s that scene from the Matrix where Neo says “I know jiu-jitsu”, but does he really?

    Even further, there is the presumption that knowing information means that you can draw accurate conclusions from that data or correctly extrapolate/interpolate that data.

    My particular background is in the legal field, and I recall the outrage over the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee verdict. Except those in the legal field understood the context of the information of the case, the paradigm in which that case was analyzed, the applicable laws and potential damages, and the intended legal purpose of the applicable laws and potential damages.

    Reading a news article in a non-legal periodical, written by a journalist, stripped of the legal context and paradigm – or, even worse, watching pundits pontificate at length on television – rendered the individual in now-possession of information without being ‘informed’ or having understanding.

    There is, of course, a practical limit to how much information is necessary to produce that understanding – not everyone need become a lawyer to do so; I’m certainly not – but there is a danger in not knowing what you don’t know. (Speaking of “known knowns” and “known unknowns”, the backlash against Rumsfeld on that point was ridiculous.)

    Processing information and retaining it doesn’t make one an expert, however, I’d hazard that more people believe themselves to have expertise, or the credibility to make decisions/have opinions, simply by virtue of having consumed more information than the next person, or the primacy of their information sources.

    False information-competence.

    1. darcherd says:

      In my experience, there is an inverse relationship between considering oneself to have expertise and the actual amount of information that person has consumed.

  4. Molin says:

    Think about this from a manufacturing standpoint too. A lot of businesses have gone from having inventory parts to a “just in time” business model.

    That means that if they get a big order, they can’t produce it in the time they could when they had inventory, because they have to order the parts, have them shipped, and hope nothing happens, or they are behind.

    Think of items on shelves. If there is a delivery delay, the store doesn’t have the item to sell, even if it is having a sale of that item.

    This is a big problem in the making if anything happens to the roadways or there is a localized natural disaster.

    Just something to think about. It’s not just students, it’s everyone.

  5. darcherd says:

    Well, Just-in-Time (JIT) manufacturing is a very well-tested and proven improvement. Yes, it requires very tight relationships with one’s suppliers and makes one vulnerable to interruptions in the supply chain (think of all those computer disk drives delayed due to the flooding in Thailand a couple of years ago and it’s impact on the entire computer industry) but its benefits over time are demonstrable and real. Carrying large amounts of inventory of parts and spares on hand in order to reduce the risk of interruptions in your supply chain has very real costs, both in terms of cash flow as well as warehousing and transportation costs. On balance, and definitely over time, JIT saves manufacturing companies money, which is why they do it.

    I’m not going to get into whether “Just In Time” is an allegory for modern life, but the fact is that most of us go with what usually works. If nearly every time you order something online, it arrives within a few days, you come to expect that and build your life and behavior around that. If 99.9% of the time, your internet is up and running, then a reasonable person would expect that it would still be working on the night before a term paper was due. Sure, a prudent person wouldn’t put things off until the last minute in case something unexpected happens, but as someone once pointed out, there are real psychological benefits to procrastination or people wouldn’t do it.

  6. Wine Guy says:

    For people in a few positions/aspects of life, it isn’t good enough. Would you like your surgeon to say “I read about doing appendectomies yesterday. Ready to go.” How about a performer at Lincoln Center where everyone’s spent $200+ for a ticket and they completely blow the 2nd movement to the concerto?

    For most people, “good enough” is actually good enough even if it is mentally lazy. The problem comes when they protest that their effort should be recognized for more than what it was. If the work was merely adequate, don’t expect honors or even more than a curt “Thank you.” Or more than a C or B- on the paper.

    2 asides:
    1. Participation trophies encourage the kind of mediocrity that comes with the “good enough attitude.”
    2. As for JIT vs. holding an inventory… the government has certainly helped JIT because now inventory holdings are taxable, in addition to higher storage costs.

    1. invah says:

      I find this answer interesting in context of everyone’s responses to LEM’s post on art.

  7. invah says:

    I just read this in “Solar Express” –

    >…strong logic is necessary to overcome poor assumptions or insufficient facts

    – and it struck me how staggeringly important it is in assessing, interpreting, and extrapolating data. Logic is critical for information-competence.

    It’s safe to presume that someone not educated or actively engaged in a specific field or area of interest will have “insufficient facts” in that regard.

    Reflecting on darcher’s comment that “there is an inverse relationship between considering oneself to have expertise and the actual amount of information that person has consumed”, the more knowledge you have in a particular area, the more versed you are in the subtleties, complexities, and nuances of that area.

    I wonder at how the characteristics of the applied logic in that environment might change.

    Lastly, everything hinges on methodology.

    Unless intrinsically driven to do so, most people acquire information haphazardly. (Unless learning intentionally, you probably won’t learn comprehensively. And when learning academically, the data is already organized for the student.) Piece-meal learning lends itself to piece-meal internal filing and construction of that data.

    I don’t think I ever considered the importance of methodology itself as an element in learning and data processing until reading Melissa Scott’s “The Roads of Heaven”.

    Accuracy and competency in data, logic, and methodology are required.

  8. invah says:

    …to construct that information into a reasonably accurate reflection of reality that can be used to pose hypotheses, draw conclusions, et cetera.

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