Your Margin of Safety

There is a fundamental engineering principle that we can apply to many areas of our lives to avoid failures and enhance the chance of success. It is the margin of safety – the idea engineers use to design things to have a greater capacity than they will likely need thereby avoiding failure. Bridges are designed to carry many more thousands of pounds than vehicles will weigh. Dams are designed to hold back more water than will actually accumulate. Structures are designed to withstand more stress it is anticipated will occur.

In a recent blog post James Clear discusses this engineering concept and what happens when it fails. As an example he cites the failures of the levees during Hurricane Katrina that caused such severe flooding in New Orleans.

This principle to design things to withstand more stress than they are likely to experience is called the margin of safety. As Clear points out we can use the margin of safety in our everyday life in many ways to insure greater success and avoid the stress of failures. Clear provides some excellent examples of this in his post but there is one that I use all the time in time management. Always allow more time than you think you will need to avoid being late or missing an appointment. I see people missing or showing up late for appointments all the time. On rare occasion that is unavoidable. Something happens we could not begin to predict. But most of the time people are late because they did not prepare in advance, they did not leave early enough, they did not allow enough time to get where they need to be.

As an example Google Maps tells me it will take one hour and 23 minutes to get the airport from my home. I know from experience however that traffic snarls will often require more time than that. I always allow at least two full hours to get there. If I get there a few minutes early there is no problem. If traffic is bad I may just get there in time. I build in a margin of safety. I am not stressed and I am not late.

I am generally a risk averse. I try to minimize risk. I understand that those who love to take risk may scoff at this idea and may leave at the last possible moment. If that is the way you like to live that is fine. But if you like to reduce stress and be on time allow extra time to get where you are going.

Similar margins of safety can be utilized in your finances, investing, project management and most anything you do. Over engineer your life a bit and it will reduce stress and you will meet your deadlines and get there on time with what you need.

Read the rest of Clear’s post here.

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.