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.

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What Is The 'Paradox of Automation'?

The Paradox of Automation says that the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the human contribution of the operators. Humans are less involved, but their involvement becomes more critical.

If an automated system has an error, it will multiply that error until it's fixed or shut down. This is where human operators come in.

Efficient Automation makes humans more important, not less.

Josh Kaufman Explains The 'Paradox of Automation'

Automation can be great, but it has very important drawbacks worth understanding.

Imagine a fully automated production line that makes computer processors that sell for $200. All the human operators have to do is push a button, and the production system starts cranking out 2,400 finished products per minute.

Life is good, right? Yes, with a very important caveat.

Imagine that a drill used to bore holes in the silicon wafer becomes misaligned, and starts drilling microscopic holes through the middle of the processor core. Every second the system keeps working, 40 chips are ruined.

Assume each processor costs $20 in material costs-that means the factory starts losing $800 every second the error isn't found. Every minute the system keeps running, the company loses $48,000 in raw materials.

And that's just the direct cost-if you take into account that each processor would sell for $200, the company is losing $528,000 a minute: $48,000 in direct costs and $480,000 in opportunity cost.

Sound far fetched? Consider this: in late 2009, Toyota identified a major issue with the accelerator pedal in several popular vehicle models, which were top sellers for many years.

The error was Multiplied across every vehicle Toyota made, and the recall cost over $5 billion dollars.

Before the recall, Toyota was considered the best automotive manufacturer in the world. They still are in many respects, but their Reputation has suffered a major blow. Even the best can fall if costly mistakes are allowed to multiply.

Here's the Paradox of Automation: the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the contribution of the human operator.

When an error happens, operators need to get involved quickly and flawlessly-otherwise, the automated system will amplify the effects of the error until it is fixed.

Dr. Lisanne Bainbridge, a psychologist at University College London, was one of the first to rigorously study the ramifications of efficient and reliable systems. She was the first to identify and express the "Paradox" of Automated systems: efficient automated systems reduce the need for human effort, but make human involvement even more critical.

Efficient Automation makes humans more important, not less.

Questions About The 'Paradox of Automation'


"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man."

Elbert Hubbard, author of A Message to Garcia


From Chapter 11:

Understanding Systems


https://personalmba.com/paradox-of-automation/



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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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