Monday, March 14, 2011

The dire consequences of perfectionism

I have written posts previously about the dangers of perfectionism in research and teaching. Hence, there was a quote in a New York Times article about the nuclear accidents in Japan that got my attention.
Nils J. Diaz, a nuclear engineer who led the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2003 to 2006 and had visited the Daiichi plant.
Mr. Diaz suggested that the Japanese might have acted too slowly to prevent overheating, including procedures that might have required the venting of small amounts of steam and radiation, rather than risk a wholesale meltdown. Fear among Japanese regulators over public reaction to such small releases may have delayed plant operators from acting as quickly as they might have, he said — a problem arising in part from the country’s larger nuclear regulatory culture.
They would rather wait and do things in a perfect manner instead of doing it as good as it needs to be now,” Mr. Diaz said. “And this search for perfection has often led to people sometimes hiding things or waiting too long to do things.”

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