Designed to Change

There is something seriously wrong with the way some things are imagedesigned.  My wife and I were away yesterday and I get a text from one of my kids saying “the fridge isn’t working”.  Sure enough when we get home later, it’s dead!  This is our second fridge in just over 10 years (our first was relatively expensive, the second inexpensive – didn’t seem to matter).  When I mention this to others most often people suggest that 5 years is pretty normal for a fridge.  I think fridges are designed to fail.  So, after I write this blog post we’re off hunting for a new fridge, oh joy…  I probably shouldn’t be writing this post right now in my less-than-happy-about-my-fridge state of mind.

However, as you know this is not limited to fridges and not just to products that stop working.  Think about the consumer electronics business.  Cell phones, for example, seem to be designed to be disposed of within 3 years.  Actually, even 3 years is a long time now when you look at the amount of change that occurs in 12-18 months.  Apple,  Android, and Windows phone manufacturers are certainly doing their part to drive the disposal smartphone market.  I just read an article on Zite yesterday suggesting the new iPhone 5, when available, will cause yet another massive disruption and may well be Apples (or anyone's) fastest selling phone.  Many of those who move up to that phone will be disposing of 1 and 2 year old perfectly functioning phones, many of which are recent iPhones.  We all experience this with electronics – new stuff comes out and suddenly what we just bought is no longer good enough.  I wonder how many iPad 2 owners are clamoring to purchase the iPad 3 now even though there’s relatively little “functional” difference.  What has happened to our society that we think it’s okay for so many products to be disposable?  And if you think I’m immune to this, I’m not.  I too get caught up in wanting the newest products although our TV, all 27 inches of retro CRT, still seems to serve us well with our rabbit ear antenna and digital to analogue converter…

How is it that our “environmentally conscious” society accepts the designed to change (or fail) mentality of manufacturers and marketers?  Our broken fridge is essentially not repairable and will be disposed of (not exactly sure what happens to it). What about all those cell phones, computers, TVs, etc.?  Why can’t our products be designed to last?  Not only is this model hard on our environment, it’s hard on our pocket books.

I was having a conversation with my eldest son the other day (he’s 24) about business (he runs his own) and fair wages (he’s hired two people recently).  I think it’s awesome that he is thinking this iStock_000017128753XSmallthrough.  He wants to pay his employees fairly for the type of work he needs them to do.  Anyway, the conversation moved over to talking about the impact of our lifestyle expectations on others.  For example, how often do we think about all the people “slaving” to produce, ever faster, our electronics, our relatively inexpensive clothing, food, shoes, etc.?  People in poorer countries are essentially working like slaves to supporting our disposable lifestyle.  I realize that what they may be paid sustains their families and without it, they may be worse off.  But, it doesn’t quite feel right does it…

We seem to be wired to expect that stuff is designed to change.  We expect the next tablet, smartphone, or car to have more features, be faster, cooler, whatever.  We’re pleased that companies are so innovative and capable of producing all these wonderful products for us.  But, isn’t it interesting that when we buy our new product we are quite pleased with our purchase, we’re happy, satisfied, etc., UNTIL, the next version or model is announced.  Suddenly, what was just bought (could be a month ago) isn’t quite as “shiny” and exciting.  I wonder what path this type of thinking will eventually lead us down.  It’s amazing how in tough economic times people have found so much disposable income to stay on this track of iStock_000019171659XSmallbuy and replace a year or two later…  I don’t have any worthy answers to my questions and wonderings but I think we need to raise our consciousness around this designed to change problem and perhaps adapt the model and scale back our expectations to be more about needs and less about wants.  We need to chart a new direction.  Easy? Doubtful. Important to our future? Absolutely.


  1. This reminds me why I stopped buying American cars. My first car was a Ford and broke down constantly. My second was a Saturn and was ok. I then bought the best Saturn model they made thinking it was going to be great. At 65,000 miles the timing belt started to slip. The dealer said that it was designed to only last until that mileage and had to be replaced at a cost of $900. It really irritated me that the car was designed with this "feature". My current car is a Nissan, in which the first tune up is not scheduled until 105,000 miles.

    I think in the current economic times we are starting to think about keeping things longer term. It is interesting to think about if this will affect our devices too.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

  2. @Crudbasher: Ya it is annoying when manufacturers build stuff to fail. Especially when we know they can do better. I remember fridges for example, lasting 20+ years! I was tempted to setup a Facebook page to dishoner the company who made our fridge but I'm just not a social media rebel :-)

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hey Brian - I really worry about the impact of consumerism on our earth - with every new and improved gadget, there is one that is tossed away. Yes, some of it is being dismantled and recycled but we have become such a throw-away society. The cost of toners for printers are often more expensive than a new printer... so what do we do?

    In a time of budget restraints (I guess this is always the case), how do we balance trying to having working tech, maintaining a our budget, and caring for our environment? This is where I see a huge struggle.


  4. @Chris - hey buddy. I'm with ya. More and more stuff is designed to be thrown away after a short time of use. Who's at fault though? Consumers for wanting the next new thing or manufacturers for wanting to sell sell sell, or dishonest ones who think they're just satisfying consumer demand...

    For schools, maybe we need to set a better example. Be more overt about what we buy and why. Tie our tech use to measureable differences for kids, teachers, and processes. I know I'm not that disciplined but feel maybe I should. How do we get people out of the mindset of better, more, faster into thoughtful, purposeful, measured? Tough question.

  5. One way to cut back on chasing the newest device is to ban them. That's what our district 57 has done -- no purchases of pods, pads, tablets, etc. Lab replacements on a fixed schedule with base-model pcs & standard configurations... were you at the Wayne Blair workshop in Edmonton back in 2005? I think that's where our district got the idea. To be sure that there isn't too much pressure for innovation, all district committees and processes for tech discussion, shared understanding, and decision-making have been cut. We've replaced it with BYOD and a locked down wireless that works some of the time (with blocks on significant social media).

    Hmm... that's not why I stopped in to comment! After reading your great post, it occurred to me that we often take the same "disposable commodity" approach to learning trends, educational theory, and organization models. For example, each of our district achievement contracts takes on a new goal without investigating how well the last one went over. Each year we've seen the "new thing" pushed out... everyone get onboard. A year later, the old jargon is a cliche, and we must now appear to be moving towards new language about what we are doing. Here are a few of the trends that I've seen come (and go) in our district:

    - Dimensions of Learning by David Brown and others (c.1995-2002 ?)
    - Data-driven decision making or "D3M" (c.2000-2007 ?)
    - Dufours' Professional Learning Communities (c.1998 ? -2009, less so after that)
    - Assessment for Learning as put forward by Black and Wiliam (c.2004-2011)
    - Inquiry model of the Network of Performance Based Schools (c.2006-2011)
    - John Abbott's 21st Century Learning Initiative (c.2010-2011)
    - Personalized Learning as indicated in the BCED plan (2011-?)

    Others theories, like Mezirow's Transformative Learning or DeVries Constructivist Education, have simply been influential (e.g. from teacher training programs) but haven't been "official." Of course, individual teachers have put a myriad of theories into practice, only some of which are on the district's radar. We've also seen about three distinct leadership paradigms come and go as well, but I ain't got the time for that right now!

    I see positive outcomes from each of these theories (on their own), and because they deal with student learning, they're bound to have some overlap. Our schools, however, have attempted a difficult project of combining many elements of these theories within existing hierarchical structures in order to put them into practice. While a "mashup" can be very creative, it can also result in confusion, lack of uptake, and tension (creative or otherwise), especially when there is no real coordination -- the implementation in our district is 10% collaboration, 20% decree, 30% willing/good-natured compliance, and 40% chance (which results in good ideas being ignored). I think it is right, though, that individuals, schools, and districts experiment with educational and organizational theory, but I wish we put more thought and time into finding out the difference and realizing the limits of what teachers and students are able to assimilate given the other challenges of the classroom. Technology carries the same "mashup" dilemma -- our smartboards, cameras, wifi devices, projectors start competing for the same learning time and create tension and often confusion. Many teachers and students are unable to turn this into something creative, and are left burned out by the gadgets. As we learn to slow down, avoid the redundant trends, and seek out the organizational processes, educational theories, and commodities of lasting value, we can all save ourselves some heartache/headache and money. too.

  6. @Thielmann: wow, your have a lot on your mind hey :-)

    With respect to SD57 and technology you describe a rather bleak situation, I hope you're exaggerating! I'm definitely aposed to banning and general blocking and more on the side of embracing and promoting the use of technology in appropriately useful ways. Your comment ended with some great points about implementation. We often get this wrong in education and can do much better to prepare and support teachers and students to use technology effectively!

    I can resonate with your description of the fad cycle. I think education systems might be particularly good at fads but I also see this in corporations, especially publicly traded ones. They are driven to generate share holder value, almost at any cost. Thus the product cycles we have, the corporate immorality stories we hear about (eg, banks and 2008, baleouts, and greed, Enron, etc).

    That said, thanks very much for sharing the info/resources on education trends you've experienced and the theories, something I'll be sure to check out - I'm somewhat of a theory junky, a wanna be philosophical intellectual :-)

    I just took a spin through your website and noticed you have experienced the product replacement cycle with vehicles - quite the variation! What's your next vehicle likely to be?

  7. It's bleak but everything goes in cycles. We have a great board of trustees right now, an activist DPAC, and others working for a change in culture, so maybe it will look different in a few years.

    SD43 seems to have its act together on technology. Whoever it was your district sent to that Edmonton Tech Planning Conference in 2005 left a very positive impression. I got the sense that Coquitlam was just picking up steam, then. That's about when things started to get weird up here. To be professional about it, we had reasonable agreement on what edtech was for, but 2 or more competing and incompatible visions for how tech planning, decisions, deployment, training, collaboration, celebration should take place. There's the good thing about replacement cycles, though -- the paradigms shift often enough that if the last one sucked, we just have to wait a year or two.

    Another bit of theory that made a ground-level impact in SD57 was from Lave and Wenger. Part of the impact ended up outside the classroom -- the formation of a teacher-parent alliance in 2010 that advocated community-based sustainability plans for our district.

    The funny part about fads is when district staff think an idea is catching on, making a difference, changing practice & policy, etc., but when one talks to teachers about the idea (e.g. AFL circa 2008), they will often have no clue what you're talking about! The irony is that we have so much disconnect in a world of staggering connectivity... broadcasting an idea doesn't guarantee communication, it has to be modeled.

    I had to go back and look at my old vehicles... I think the consistent theme was affordability. Some people dream of landrover, porsche, or lexus... I'd be content if my next car was a highlander or pilot... just need enough juice to pull my 22-yr-old tent trailer. Our "his and hers" CRV are doing the job for now... neither of us want a "nice" car until our kids stop generating crumbs in the back seat.

  8. @Theilman - right, I remember that tech plan workshop. Gary Kern and I attended from SD43. That was the beginning of a renewed journey with ed tech, we're still riding that wave. Clarity around vision, investment in staff development, infrastructure, and technical support, are key elements. A focus on improving learning should be a key part of the vision.

    You're creating homework for me with more theory's :-) I've got some reading to do.

    Ya, I've noticed that disconnect between what we District people think is happening or known and what is real. That's a key reason I make a concerted effort to be in classrooms talking to teachers and kids at all levels. I want to know and record what's happening both to face reality and to be able to share good practices with others.

    Cars... we bought our first brand-new vehicle in 2009 on our 25th wedding anniversary. It was a bit spontaneous but a great decision. We bought a 2009 Hyundai Sante Fe loaded - love it. I'm planning to buy a new Hyundai Genesis Sport Coupe in late 2013 once I've got enough saved up. Love the Hyundai's!


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