Mercator’s projection (updated)

For who makes rainbows by invention?
And many standing round a waterfall 
See one bow each, yet not the same to all, 
But each a hand’s breadth further than the next.   
                             Gerard Manley Hopkins

What good is trial and error learning when a system’s massive error means no trials possible thereafter? You do not want to push an infrastructure’s control operators into prolonged unstudied conditions and then wonder why they aren’t reliable.

Some think otherwise. “First off,” the project designer tells us, “I’m always working in unstudied conditions. Every major project, I’ve got to make all manner of assumptions.” I counter: The challenge of project designers is to find out what are the better practices for starting off complex project designs. Here I mean the really-existing practices that have emerged and been modified over a run of different cases and shown to be more effective for design implementation.

“But how can a field or discipline grow if it doesn’t move into unstudied conditions by doing something the first time…” This response is often stated as if it were established fact. Here too better practices are to be first searched for. Or where they aren’t found, then, yes, systemwide innovation should not be undertaken if it reduces options, increases task volatility, and diminishes maneuverability in real-time complex system operations.

“But, there always has to be someone who does something for the very first first-time, right?”

At this point, Dutch bluntness is called for: “The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this is indeed the very first time.” This is a planet of 7 plus billion, after all.

“But still,” our friends, the economists, press: “What about the pivotal role of innovation in the economy!” Well, yes, but so too are the infrastructures upon which the innovation economy depend. To treat innovation as more important than the infrastructures (without whose reliability there wouldn’t be most innovations) risks Mercator’s projection: It distorts by over-enlarging the already large.

Innovationists don’t see it that way. The risks they take end up the price few of the rest of us ever thought we’d have to pay.

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