Defective teaching

Matthew Evans

One of my university lecturers, a long time ago (in Brighton, so also in a galaxy far, far away), told a story which was probably apocryphal. None-the-less, it made the point. It went like this…

In the 1980s, a British company decided to start buying in components from Japan. They were very specific in the contract that they required 95% without defects. They were not going to accept any nonsense from these foreign suppliers.

When the goods arrived, exactly 5% of the components wouldn’t work properly. The company contacted the suppliers to point out that this was at the margin of what they would accept. The Japanese firm were confused. “But we gave you exactly what you asked for”, they protested. “If you wanted 100% without defects, why didn’t you say that?”

The lecture was on quality assurance. The story highlighted the strange practice in Western business culture of tolerating…

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