Neither or both, Seth 🙂 And here’s my opinionated 2 rupees worth why :-
Overall, you are very right that nothing is quite good enough. However, I think that there’s more to this than just those two points, and I quote,
but here are my two big ideas to start:
1. Humans tend to work on a problem until they get a good enough solution, instead of a solution that’s right.
2. The marketplace often rewards solutions that are cheaper and good
enough, instead of investing in the solution that promises to lead to
the right answer.
Let’s step back a moment and take the long view on how this has come to be in today’s world. Seth Godin quite rightly complains that nothing is quite good enough, whether a product or a service. I think that the answer to the question "Why is this so?" lies back in history. Back in the 1950’s and early 60’s, Vance Packard wrote in his seminal book, The Waste Makers about the then new concept of planned obsolescence. In it, and I paraphrase, he describes the impact of planned obsolescence on American productivity, especially on the national character. The four types of obsolescence are classified as technical or functional, planned, style and postponed. Planned obsolescence is defined as,
When marketers deliberately introduce obsolescence into their product strategy.
The marketer’s objective is to generate long-term sales volume by
reducing the time between repeat purchases. In a highly competitive
industry, this can be a risky strategy because consumers may buy from competing producers. There are also ethical considerations.
In more detail,
…is the conscious decision on the part of an agency to produce a consumer product that will become obsolete
in a defined time frame. Planned obsolescence has great benefits for a
producer in that it means a consumer will buy their product repeatedly,
as their old one is no longer functional or desirable. It exists in
many different products from vehicles to lightbulbs, from buildings to
software. There is, however, the potential backlash of consumers that
become aware of such obsolesence; such consumers can shed their loyalty
and buy from a company that caters to their want of a more durable
The bold italics are mine. Now if you consider that these concepts were put in place in the 1920’s and 30’s and were observable in the late fifties, when Packard was interviewing leading industrial designers of his day
such as Loewy and Lippincott on their ethical concerns regarding this trend, what do you think is the likelihood that the backlash today, spearheaded by Godin, can trace its roots back to the establishment of these very practices. We have grown up with obsolescence as a fact of life, in some areas, in fact, as a matter of pride viz., Moore’s Law. But what then of the social and cultural impact of almost a hundred years of making to break on people’s attitudes to products and services that they offer?
Yes, Seth, your big idea is right, it is the markets and the humans, but my guess would be that the reasons go beyond attitude, approach and a cost cutting mentality of "good enough." We are facing the righteous backlash of a couple of generations of marketing strategy and planning.
Ps. As an industrial engineer, I’ll behave and refrain from commenting on this line, "It’s not Jack Welch’s six sigma nonsense in which engineers codify mediocrity."