27 Oct 2015

No standard for success

I have a bit of a fetish against standards when they are offered as a label of quality.[1] "Organic" or "fair trade" labels, for example, are not always better for me, the earth or farmer. This is because some labels capture what can be measured more than what matters.[2]

That is why I mistrust the ISO-14046 standard for "water footprinting," i.e., a method of quantifying the water contained in a product, trade flow or process.

Many agree that footprinting has serious problems (following my lead, of course ;), which is why I worry that it may be misused to "show good" when actual bad is occurring.

"But they are very careful when they make and implement standards," you might (wishfully) think. Yes, but care doesn't always mean success.

Consider Apple and Windows (or Android) operating systems. On paper, both should deliver the same promised performance, because both Apple and Windows standards are written down and followed by thousands of engineers. But in reality they are not the same because Apple has much tighter control over hardware, manufacturing, labeling, etc.[3] This difference probably arises because some performance relevant factors are missing from the standard because they are too hard to understand. Put differently, I'd prefer to read a mystery novel by Apple (a single author) over one by Windows (a committee).

Bottom Line: Don't trust standards unless measured performance delivers desired outcomes.

  1. I love the USB standard, metric system and Euro for their reduction in my transaction costs.
  2. "What gets measured gets managed" is dangerous when mismeasure leads to mis-management.
  3. Fanboys -- I am talking about promise vs performance, not potential performance.