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OUR GROWING DEPENDENCY ON MASS MEDIOCRITY

Posted by Tim Bryce on July 2, 2012

– “The state of the art is whatever Microsoft says it is.” – Bryce’s Law

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Have you ever been looking through a mega-hardware store/garden shop and not been able to find precisely what you are looking for? Instead, you settle for something else which you take home, try it, and regret having purchased. Instead of returning it though, you think it is not worth your time and throw it in the garbage. Not only is the exact merchandise not available, merchants even go so far as to make the item difficult to return in order to discourage you from doing so. Even if you do, there is a penalty fee associated with it. You’re stuck and you learn to live with it.

There is a growing trend to accept second class workmanship. For example, it is no longer a surprise to us if something doesn’t work properly or is late in delivery. Instead of finding it intolerable, we simply accept it. And this is the mindset most businesses are hoping for.

Understand this, it is the middle class that fuels a country’s economy. It is the middle class that purchases the products and services en masse. As such, the middle class is the impetus for mass production. By carefully manipulating the wants, desires and purchasing attitudes of the middle class, merchants and manufacturers can maximize their profit margins. They also know it is not necessary to sell a high quality product (which adds to costs) but, instead, simply offers what the public will accept.

Years ago, when we purchased something, we expected it to be durable and work according to expectations. We no longer think this way. This is why manufacturers carefully build in planned obsolescence into their products. They don’t want you to buy it once, they want you to buy it over and over again.

I laugh when I hear people bragging they have the latest from Microsoft. They honestly believe it is the best that money can buy. But is it really? Let me give you an example. Back in the 1990’s, IBM introduced its OS/2 operating system for the PC platform. Frankly, OS/2 was years ahead of itself. Not only did it have a fine Graphical User Interface (with a true object oriented desktop), it also included preemptive multitasking, crash protection, a vastly superior file management system, multimedia, Internet access, Java support, etc. Microsoft, on the other hand, offered Windows 3.x which provided a simple Graphical User Interface for DOS (which most people were using at the time). Over time, enhancements were added and the product was superseded by newer versions entitled Windows 95/NT/98/ME/2000/XP/7, all at ever-escalating prices.

Whereas consumers perceived OS/2 as a radical departure from their DOS environment, Windows appeared less threatening and affordable. In reality, people have paid Microsoft more than quadruple for Windows than what they would have paid IBM for OS/2. But Microsoft’s forte is in marketing where they carefully spoon-fed their product to the public in smaller mouthfuls and captured the “mindshare” of the middle class. Even when Windows started hiccupping errors, people were taught that this was to be expected from a high tech product. And people accepted it. Today, OS/2 is all but forgotten and Windows dominates the PC world.

Microsoft has used similar tactics in marketing products that compete with Lotus, Real, Turbotax, and Adobe. Basically, their initial offering can be described as primitive at best but it is sold for next to nothing (thereby setting the hook for the consumer). They then issue subsequent releases of the product at ever-increasing prices until they dominate the market. I would wager you that Microsoft’s research and development budget (against gross sales) percentage-wise is vastly lower than their competitors. No, their forte is shrewd marketing to the middle class and controlling its “mindshare.” Windows, therefore, is an excellent example of a product tailored to the middle class. It is not necessarily state of the art, it is what the general public perceives as state of the art.

As an aside, to this day, I still prefer the reliability and performance of my OS/2 machines over Windows.

We see similar instances of manipulating the public in other areas as well, from everything from cell phones to automobiles. Foreign manufacturers have taken notice as well. Whereas Japanese and German cars were once considered a joke, they now dominate the industry.

We also see this same phenomenon in the information systems of our companies. System hiccups are commonplace, as are project cost and schedule overruns. So much so, that the end user community hasn’t just lost confidence in the IT development staff, they expect such problems to occur.

A lot of this can be blamed on the decline of craftsmanship over the years, but more importantly, the consumer has been conditioned to accept screw-ups.

For example,

* People ACCEPT inferior workmanship; we no longer have high expectations.
* People ACCEPT delays and cost overruns.
* People EXPECT products not to have a long life cycle.
* People ACCEPT shoddy service (heck, we’ll even tip people for bad service).

In other words, the intolerable is now tolerable and business is counting on the middle class accepting mediocrity. Is it that we no longer know how to make durable goods anymore or do we not want to?

As we should all know by now, business caters to the middle class. And they spend a ton of money on research to know precisely what the public wants and how they perceive things. More importantly, they have subliminally brainwashed the public’s perceptions over the years whereby our search for excellence has been supplanted by the acceptance of mediocrity. Consider this, we now live in an age of electronic communications (cell phones, faxes, the Internet), but does anyone take the time to express their outrage? Far less than you might think.

Like it or not, we are being conditioned to accept mediocrity and are becoming more dependent on it each passing day. It seems the more high-tech we go, the more problems we encounter, and the lower our expectations get.

I guess misery loves company.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:  
timbryce.com

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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INDEPENDENCE DAY – When was the last time you read the Declaration?

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9 Responses to “OUR GROWING DEPENDENCY ON MASS MEDIOCRITY”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A T.K. of Florida wrote…

    “You like your old IBM and I have a still working Windows 98 which came (still works) with a FREE Office 95 with great spreadsheets and charts to fill in that are not to be had on current Office folders.

    I take these medical charts listing medicines my wife and I take to doctors offices and recently last week to a hospitals and they are amazed at the form and ask where we found them and I say Windows 95 ( 17 years ago) .”

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    An F.M. of Texas wrote…

    “Good one!”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    A U.V. of Largo, Florida wrote…

    “Wonderful way to start the week. Mediocrity is the name of the game today. Back in 1961, my mother in-law bought us a Frigidaire refrigerator as a wedding gift.

    When we sold the Brooklyn house in 2001, that beauty was still working in the basement! 40 years! In 1968 we bought a Gibson stand-up commercial freezer. Brought it down to Florida and when we sold that house in 2011 it was still working in the garage. 43 years! That was workmanship. Of course if all things lasted that long, nobody would be buying anything. Catch 22!”

    Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    A P.E. of Tampa, Florida wrote…

    “Loved it, esp. the part about Microsoft. Over the years, I have come to despise them, and wish there were alternatives that are not so costly. I learned Lotus back in the day, and still think it is better than Excel.”

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A D.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote…

    “I could’ve written this myself. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. I have plenty of outrage over this, and also for one thing you didn’t mention, ie. the complete lack of an apology every time the mediocre customer service people screw up when “helping” me with their mediocre products inevitable failures. Unfortunately for my blood pressure, I express it. “

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    An H.S. of Las Vegas, Nevada wrote…

    “I certainly couldn’t have expressed this better than you have, Tim. The mediocrity mentality of the IT industry is one of the factors that caused me to retire early. My high standards were no longer appreciated by my employer, and that was unacceptable to me. Shrewd marketing has the masses brainwashed as you say. Most consumers expect problems with products and deal with it because they know a “better” version will be available to them in the near future.”

    Like

  7. Tim Bryce said

    An I.T. of the United Kingdom wrote…

    “A quick scan of the article shows you raise a lot of points I’ve blogged on in the past Tim. Out of time now, it’s dinner time in Britain, but I’ll be back to read more thoroughly.”

    Like

  8. Tim Bryce said

    An O.B. of Macon, Georgia wrote…

    “Tis’ my belief that our dependency on mediocrity can be blamed on not being taught how to think, I am writing a book,,(my first attempt) Named “Desire World” or the ability to think past the end of your nose”
    Most people settle for less because they don’t know where to look or are too lazy to spend more time looking for something they need.
    Of the kids that come to the Haunted Barn to work, I take great pleasure in being somewhat of a mentor to them. I started teaching them a couple of years ago about “Desire world”
    Desire world is a place where you can find every thing you need, and it most begins to exist in your mind, then as you use what you find there you gain experienced and one experience build upon another. Everywhere around you are resources of some kind or other, Chances are that there are many things that will fit your needs if you can only see them in the right frame of mind. As an exercise, I have the kids ( and I frequently go myself) to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Office depot or any store that sell multiple products and just look, Take you time and really look at all the things they have in the store. You won’t remember all of them, but a certain part of what you have seen stays with you. This, then become part of you inventory in your desire world. When you encounter a situation in which you need something and the something is not readily available, cast you mind around to similar things to see if something else or maybe better will take it’s place. Don’t buy something or gather it simply because it is the only selection available. This is the time when you really need to put on your thinking cap.
    Most folks today have no idea how to do that, If a solution is not immediately at hand they are lost and them buy what the don’t really need because it is the only item in the store in that category. Far too many folks deem it below their time to really learn to operate things like a remote control that has more than a couple of buttons on it, Have you ever seen the book that comes with a scientific calculator? Or maybe the programing book that comes with a computer radio for a model airplane? These books are thick and contain much information, but folks only glean from them the very basic uses and discard the rest.
    Years ago my day handed me a framing square and told me that all I had to do to find a job anywhere I went, was to learn all the aspects of that square, I found out he was right, it is a tool for calculating all kinds of things and for laying out of many intricate designs, a mathematical teacher of geometry and design, The book for it is also thick. There should be books written on all tools not only the physical one we use to work with but also the mental tools we use to think with, Hopefully that is the goal of my book and I am not pushing the book, In fact I may not try to sell it at all but deliver it to folks that I think will be able to use the information in it.
    As example of one of the things folks do without thinking is to try to drive nails, most grab the hammer about half way up the handle hold the nail to the wood and start swinging, looking at the head of the nail. Chances are they will miss the nail several times, before driving it home, And they expend a lot of muscle driving it. The hammer has a long handle for a reason it work on the same principle as a lever and a fulcrum, You grab the end of the hammer and wrap you hand around it is such a way that the little finger is on the bottom,.it is this little finger that throws the hammer, the rest of the fingers simply hold the hammer straight. Then as you start to drive the nail, you look at the point where it enters the wood and keep your eyes on that point the hammer will automatically hit the head of the nail. The last thing to remember is to pull the hammer back as soon as it hits. (This snap at the end is also what cause the puck to ring the bell at the carnival. ) Thinking of the hammer in term of physics would be a burden to a lot of folks, but thinking will make it easier.
    Simple things like the using of a hammer are cause to think until you understand how to use it. Manufactures know that folks don’t think so the provide the cheapest way out for those type of folks, It is called marketing. And yes, market is aimed at mediocracy,
    Grocery Stores and almost all other stores follow the pattern of attractively packaging and setting their wares in front of the public eye,.
    Lowe’s for instance carried the best brand of locking pliers (vise grips) but that brand name is expensive and hidden among the cheaper version and the cheaper ones are also placed in aisles all over the store.
    But as I previously stated most mediocrity comes from not thinking or not knowing how to think.
    Maybe I can get the message across with my book to a few and they in turn might teach someone else. “

    Like

  9. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “Well said, Tim. We are all guilty of settling for less than we should. Complaining to customer service is an exercise in futility, so we don’t bother.

    My husband is a DYI guy, so the number of trips I’ve made to hardware and home stores for brackets, screws, bolts, bits, blades, etc., is legion. I HATE the blister-packaged hardware in the big box stores! We had a neighborhood hardware store that was family owned for almost 100 years. I could take a bracket, bolt, etc., into that store and ask for six of them. The clerk would count six into a little paper bag. I always went home with the right items and didn’t have the frustration of hunting for something that might not be there or hearing a clerk say “If we have it, it would be on aisle 2″.”

    Like

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