Some of the most
contentious and emotion filled arguments spring from the “just as good as”
statement assigned to a particular piece of equipment, clothing, or
component. We have all witnessed or
participated in the passionate defense of one’s material choice, to do so is
simply human nature. It is a personal
affront for some to be challenged on their choice of a material solution. For better or for worse the golden age of the
www has launched these discussions and arguments from the break room and lunch
table to instantaneous exposure in front of the thousands of internet experts
and operators for consideration and opinion.
But why did we make that particular choice? Is there a methodology or decision criteria
we use to determine if a particular item meets our requirements? We have discussed quality at length before,
but there are 50 shades of Multicam on either side of the binary question “is
it good enough?”
The best place to
start is with the question of meeting requirements. If an item does not meet the individual,
department or unit requirement then it should immediately be screened out and
relegated to the throw away Course of Action (COA) pile. This
leaves us only with the selections that meet (the key word in the selection
process) our requirements. Within these
remaining options there are material selections that will be optimal, exceed,
or are adequate (good enough). It is the
“good enough” determination that warrants exploration.
When we choose a
material solution for a requirement we always mentally trade off features,
attributes, and cost. Always. We may not consciously admit to doing so, but
there is a process that runs in the background every time we make a
purchase. I would argue that in order to
arrive at the best solution available for yourself or your organization we
should make that process a deliberate one with conscious thought. Do not read this as being a long and
complicated approach, just a deliberate one.
What role does the item have (the
requirement) and what are the consequences if it fails?
Even in the armed
professional realm not all items are of equal importance. The same holds true for the professional
Citizen or casual day hiker. Some items
are more critical than others, thus the assignment of the adjective to only
those items that are indeed “critical”.
When we take an objective look at our requirements the items that are
non-negotiable are determined by the result of any potential failure of that
particular item. The severity and
frequency (opportunity) of these if/then statements to occur will guide the
assignment of the importance of the item.
“If my magazine fails to feed then I may lose the fight and be killed”
carries a lot more weight than “if the backpack with my laptop splits a seam on
the way to the coffee shop I will have to carry it by hand”. These
mental wargames can greatly assist with the decision process and uncover
solutions to problems that may not have been as important as we thought they
were. Will the failure of the item
under consideration result in severe injury or loss of life, mission failure,
or significant damage to other material items that cannot be easily recovered? If the answer is yes to any of these
questions then the item is not one that should be compromised on or quality
traded away for. The lower limits of
“good enough” become much higher for critical items, and the priority to
acquire them goes to the front of the line.
The requirements determination cannot
be done in a vacuum devoid of context.
Your requirements may be different from mine. A mountaineering enthusiast would recoil in
disgust at my choice in backpack or the thought that I would choose to use a
plain old 100 percent wool watch cap for winter wear (most of the time). But his context and resulting requirements
are vastly different from mine and call for different priorities and
attribution of that “critical item” adjective.
“Buy once, cry once”…or not?
non-critical item selection? How do we
select something that is “good enough”?
We have to take a hard, honest look at how we make those decisions. Yeah the other well-made brand’s rain shell
won’t put you in good graces with the Dead Chicken constabulary, but if the
frequency and duration of wear is to and from the local outdoor shop is it good
enough? While the off brand superstore 60
dollar rain shell probably doesn’t meet the base requirement (keep you dry
without turning you into a sweaty burrito), are there other quality options
that do and will still get the job done properly? The war cry of “Only the best will do for
Mrs. Martin’s baby boy!” may not apply to as many things as we lead ourselves
to believe. A Rolex solution for a G Shock problem is not efficient. Don’t misunderstand me, when it is time to
stay dry in the field, apply kinetic solutions, protect, heal, or see at night it is time
to spend some money.
Frequency, type of use, cost
Frequency, duration, and real (not imagined)
requirements should drive the decision for non-critical items. How often do you use it? IF it fails, THEN what is the result? There may be times when critical items may be
non-critical (remember that context matters).
Take magazines for example.
Surplus GI aluminum 5.56 mags on the range? Sure, why not. If there is a failure, push pull and get on
with life. Step off the line and throw
it in the trash can. Same bent ass 5
dollar surplus mags loaded in your HD carbine or on a duty rig? Nope, PMAGs all around. Chinese made gear pouch with some batteries
and wet wipes in your range bag? You
betcha, good enough. Chinese made plate
carrier with improper stitching and low quality control in your squad car? No officer, that isn’t ok.
Know what you are doing and why you are
Know what you are
doing and why you are doing it. My good
bud Chad Halvorson always says this when he is teaching...simple words of wisdom. It comes down to the following: don’t kid yourself. I’m not arguing against selecting high end
solutions for non-critical requirements…at all.
I do that more times than not, but it is a personal, informed choice. The purpose of this is to offer up “A way” to
think through gear and equipment selection.
Determine your requirement for a piece of kit, decide if it is indeed
critical through some “if/then” wargaming.
If you determine it to be a non-critical item, apply the same if/then
wargaming through the frequency and duration lens of YOUR reality to see if
there are material solutions you may not have considered. Just remember there still exists the floor
where you cross over from “good enough” to single use junk. By definition these items are downgraded to
the No-Go column from Jump Street. Good
enough solutions are just that: good enough. There are some exceptional solutions in the
marketplace, we are fortunate to live in the golden age of information. Reviews of nylon gear, equipment, knives,
watches, battery chargers…you name it.
Odds are there are more than a few video reviews on that particular
piece of kit. Professional forums,
discussion groups, and direct feedback from industry professionals are an
invaluable resource to determine if the alternate solution is 1. above the
cutoff line and 2. is both viable and applicable for YOU. Even the large reseller websites with
customer reviews are an outstanding source for details and feedback. Do your research, don’t get sucked in to the
emotional defense of your best bud’s lifelong brand loyalty without the
facts. It might save you buying
sub-standard solutions, but more importantly it will promote self-awareness, help
define what is truly essential to your role, and free up resources to apply to
those critical items that have little margin for error. There is an old saying, “the enemy of
effective is perfection.” Being
effective today beats being perfect tomorrow every doggone time.