Margin of Error

I find it useful to learn from other disciplines. If you want to stand out in your field, borrow ideas that are commonplace in other industries, professions, and domains, but unusual in your field.

I’m not the only person who has come to this conclusion. Warren Buffet’s business partner, Charlie Munger, strongly advocates multi-disciplinary learning.

For example, the field of structural engineering has a useful concept called the “margin of error.”

Let’s say you want to build a bridge that can safely support 50 tons of vehicles crossing it every day for 50 years.

You could build your bridge to meet that exact specification, or you could build a bridge to handle 90 tons of weight, but only allow 50 tons of vehicles on the bridge at a time.

The incremental 40 tons of weight-bearing capacity provides the engineer (and the drivers on the bridge) with a “margin of error.”

The wise engineer assumes that there will be unforeseen problems or errors in the design, the materials used, the construction, or the usage forecasts.

Her engineering design allows the bridge to operate safely even with a certain degree of error that may occur under real world conditions.

When a commercial jetliner only needs 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg) of jet fuel to reach its destination, they fill the gas tank with 10% to 20% extra fuel... just in case.

If the pilot knows there’s rapidly changing bad weather en route, he’ll request 20% to 30% more fuel... just in case.

If you’re going for your next promotion, don’t aim for the bare minimum achievement needed to get promoted, deliver 20%, 40%, or 60% more than what is needed.

If your product is only 3.5% better than the competition, go back to the drawing board and redesign your product (or strategically choose an under-served market segment to target) where your market offering will be 60% better than the competition.

When you write an article on a topic (like I am right now), don’t just write an article that’s extremely adequate. Write an article that is or strives to be the best article in the world on that topic.

Do more than is needed or expected.

You will NEVER go wrong with this approach.

This is the key to succeeding in a way where those around you benefit from your success.

When this happens, others help you succeed even more because they benefit too.

Don’t just deliver.

Instead, over deliver.

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