Fanning the flames: Winston Churchill and the Galaxy Note 7

13 October 2016

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Winston Churchill picThe Galaxy 7 story is fascinating, for all sorts of reasons.  However, while from a business perspective, it’s probably the most damaging example of a mass-use device spontaneously combusting, it’s by no means the only one. Lots of other things have set themselves on fire over the centuries, including: coal, linseed oil, haystacks and, apparently, human beings*.

In all the fuss about Samsung, it’s worth recalling the sage advice of Winston Churchill, who in the House of Commons in 1935 said:

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story … Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, … – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

A quick check on Mr. Google shows that there are lots of articles from September this year on the subject of Samsung phones and their lithium batteries.  Now lithium batteries are used for lots of things (including other phones) and the manufacturers do, I’m sure, take every precaution to avoid the odd conflagration erupting in the middle of your board meeting/at the football/down the pub/in the ladies’.

However, taking Churchill’s warning as evidence that they clearly haven’t done enough “when the situation was manageable,’ Mr. G also told me that as far back as 2009 the New York Times was fulminating on the dangers of lithium batteries and even Wikipedia’s entry on the subject contains the information, “Lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous under some conditions and can pose a safety hazard since they, unlike other rechargeable batteries, contain a flammable electrolyte and are kept pressurized.”

In other words, and be honest you don’t normally get Churchillian quotes in IT blogs, our most famous prime minister was right; there was indeed considerable confusion of counsel until the emergency came and these (Google) links constitute the endless repetition of history. In fact, as a lesson in how to run a tech company, or indeed any business, Churchill’s quotation is worth writing down and memorising.  Neglecting to manage technoiogy/situations, being unwilling to act when action would have a corrective impact, not thinking clearly, getting varied and incorrect counsel that does not prevent an emergency arising – all these surely should resonate with every start-up and established business in the country. Mind you, given the number of cigars Churchill smoked (10 a day, or a quarter of a million over his lifetime), it’s perhaps surprising that he didn’t spontaneously combust as well!

Michael Phair, Be-IT Resourcing

* the Daily Mail says this happened so it must be true.

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