Good Macro, Bad Micro

post by Ilemauzar · 2021-06-04T04:30:52.937Z · LW · GW · 2 comments

So this is a concept that I noticed while reviewing a preventative maintenance manual for the product I support at work. To give a little context, this is a manual that goes out to 500+ power plants around the world, to be used by operations and engineering teams to ensure proper functionality of their installed system and minimize downtime. This is what I would call a “good macro” skill. Being able to think about complex systems and how to create a document that applies to all of them despite their variations. Now, for the irony in all of this, the “bad micro” skill. I don’t have a maintenance schedule for my car. I have a 1988 Suzuki Samurai that has been sitting in my mom’s garage for the past 5 years and I haven’t touched it. My daily driver is a newer car for which I don’t even have a maintenance record. I couldn’t tell you what the oil change interval dates are, and I haven’t rotated the tires ever.

My point here is, it’s easy to be good at macro stuff, writing manuals for general systems. When it comes to micro stuff, my own possessions, I just don’t do it. Incentive could be a factor; I write a manual at work that gets me recognition and praise that in the long term makes it easier for me to advance my career (and pay grade). Maintaining my car, on the other hand, has no obvious benefit other than avoiding issues in the future. There is no praise or recognition for keeping record and following oil change intervals, tire pressure checks, rotating tires, etc. You could argue that neglected maintenance on my car could result in more expensive repairs, decreasing value of the car or in the most extreme cases death (tire blowout resulting in a severe crash). Neglecting the maintenance manual (macro) on the other hand would result in possibly a worse performance review, less recognition and in the worse case getting fired. What’s worse, dying or getting fired? Unfortunately nowadays some people act like losing their job is worse than losing their life. You have an OSHA card but you don’t wear a seatbelt. You speed on your way to work at the crash safety institute (you don’t want to lose your job right!)

I’m not trying to ostracize the bad micro, good macro people. I don’t want everyone to become a safety freak, or live life cautiously at all times. This is too new to me to have any practical advice on how to approach this, I just wanted to externalize it and bring it to discussion. 

2 comments

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comment by Timothy Johnson (timothy-johnson) · 2021-06-04T18:57:17.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't this just a normal consequence of scale? If you had to maintain 500 cars, you'd probably be more systematic. With just one car, the chances of it breaking down on any given day are pretty low.

My own strategy is that I take my car to get inspected every time the maintenance light comes on, which is about 5,000 miles. The rest of the time, I don't worry about it.

Replies from: Ilemauzar
comment by Ilemauzar · 2021-06-05T18:50:31.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well yes, it a consequence of scale, but my purpose here is to question the incentives behind maintaining 500 cars vs. one car. Taking your car maintenance example, I would expect a vehicle fleet administrator to apply the same schedule he uses for the fleet to his daily driver. If he applied the strategy that you describe (which is essentially reactive maintenance) to the fleet, there is a higher probability of one car failing than if he only applied it to his car. Using the same checklist he uses for the fleet for his personal car (let’s assume preventative maintenance) would result in increased reliability.