Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Safest Car Possible Provides No Safety

Let's design the safest car on the market. Not just a 5 star safety rating safe, but the absolute safest.  Our goal will be to prevent a death from ever happening with this car. We'll fight vehemently for every safety control and block any feature that doesn't provide the highest degree of safety. After all, we know how to design safety controls for nearly every potential risk.

What kind of car would we get? Well, it certainly would be the safest. But it probably also wouldn't move past 20 mph since high speeds create risk. The doors would have foam on the edges since people often hit themselves when opening it. Don't even think about windows that roll down, people often loose limbs by hanging their arms out into the fresh air. But, fear not this would be the safest car around and experts will applaud its extreme safety.

Now that we have a safe car let's ask ourselves this question, are drivers actually safer? No, because no one will buy the car. It may be safe, but the car can't compete in terms of expected features and normal usability. Since no one is using the car, the level of safety of drivers remains unchanged. They all still use the same cars designed by competitors with varying degrees of safety.

In order to be disruptive in a particular market on safety you have to first ensure you car is competitive on all other fronts. Only then can you focus efforts on excelling on safety. In addition, design decisions that unilaterally prioritize safety over basic and expected use cases and features must be rethought.

Is this to say that safety must be deprioritized in order to build a competitive car? Absolutely not. In fact, safety can be used as an amazing differentiator.  Get the best and brightest safety engineers and approach safety in new ways. You could very well build a car that can do amazing things while still being safe. Tackle new crazy features that drivers would love to have in their car but no one else can figure out how to design safely. Combine tried and true safety knowledge with new and creative approaches to safety that pass comprehensive testing.  This is how you can win on safety and build a car that will protect drivers - because they actually want to buy it.

Don't build a car that no one buys. You aren't protecting anyone.

-Michael Coates - @_mwc