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What Is A 'Fail-Safe'?

A Fail-Safe is a backup system designed to prevent or allow recovery from a primary system failure.

Fail-safes are not efficient if you think you'll never need them. The thing is, if you ever need one, it'll be too late to develop it. Fail-safes must be developed before they are needed.

Separate your Fail-safe from your primary system as much as possible to prevent one tragedy ruining everything.

Never make the backup system part of the system you're trying to protect. Interdependence is not good when it comes to Fail-safes.

Try to eliminate single points of failure. If the system relies on critical inputs to function, you should plan for when those inputs aren't available.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Fail-Safes'

Every Wednesday at noon, a generator kicks on outside of the house I grew up in. If all goes well, it'll run for 10 minutes, then turn off automatically until the next testing cycle, silently waiting to spring into action again when the power goes out.

My father once worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician, and has refined "being prepared" into a high art.

The generator is designed to turn on automatically the moment the primary electricity to the house fails, taking over the house's electrical demands seamlessly. The generator is fed via a propane tank behind the garage, which has enough fuel to keep the generator running for a week. If a storm knocks out power to the area, Dad is prepared to handle it.

Dad's preparedness rubbed off on me. Now that we live in the mountains of Colorado, we have to be prepared for the possibility of the car breaking down somewhere remote or cold, and we can't rely on a towing service (or cell phone coverage) to save us.

Kelsey often makes fun of me for stocking our vehicles with extra clothing, sleeping bags, snowshoes, and satellite-driven personal locator beacons, but I don't mind. If something happens, we'll be glad we were prepared-I consider the investment in equipment a cheap, durable Insurance policy.

A Fail-Safe is a backup system designed to prevent or allow recovery from a primary system failure. If the primary system fails in some way, well-designed fail-safes can keep the system from collapsing unexpectedly.

You can find backup systems anywhere consistent performance is critical.

Actors in high-profile Broadway shows have understudies. If "the show must go on," it pays to ensure you'll always have a replacement for any actor who can't perform. Most shows even have a few "swing" actors: performers who are ready to stand in for any role at a moment's notice.

External hard drives back up critical computer data. If the hard drive in your computer crashes, you can still access the data via the backup drive, so you won't lose everything. Some businesses even take the precaution of storing backup drives off-site in case of fire or natural disaster.

Airplanes have systems that sense a failure in cabin pressure, automatically deploying face masks attached to an oxygen tank. If the airplane's pressurized cabin fails for some reason, the passengers won't all pass out-a very good thing indeed.

Fail-Safes are not efficient in the sense that you're investing time and resources in a system you hope you'll never use.

Backup systems and Insurance, from one perspective, can be seen as a waste of money-why spend valuable resources on something you hope you'll never need? Here's why: by the time you need a Fail-Safe, it's too late to develop one.

In order to be effective, Fail-Safes must be developed before you need them. If you wait to develop backup systems until you need them, it's too late to make a difference.

Paying for homeowners insurance can feel like a waste of money until your house burns down. If you wait to buy insurance until something bad happens, it's already too late.

Try to separate your Fail-Safe and primary system as much as possible. One of the reasons people rent safe deposit boxes in banks is to protect certain items from loss in the event of fire or theft-if something happens to the house, the items in the safe deposit box will still be okay.

The practice of backing up data to an off-site data center serves the same purpose: if something happens to the business computers, the data is still safe in another location.

Fail-Safes that are highly Interdependent with the primary system can actually introduce additional risks.

One of the worst things that you can do is make your backup system a part of the system you're trying to protect. For example, it wouldn't do my father much good if a failure in the generator cascaded to the house's primary electrical system and knocked out the power unexpectedly. An Automated computer backup system doesn't do you any good if it could potentially delete all of your original files.

As much as possible, never have a single critical point of failure. If your system relies on critical inputs or processes in order to function, it's a good idea to plan for situations where those inputs aren't available or those processes are disrupted.

What would you do if the system fails? Plan in advance to develop fail-safes for all critical systems, and you'll make your system as Resilient as you possibly can.

Questions About 'Fail-Safes'


"'Always' and 'never' are two words that you should always remember never to use."

Wendell Johnson, psychologist and pioneer of speech pathology


From Chapter 11:

Understanding Systems


https://personalmba.com/failsafe/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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