Replacing a button on one of my customer-facing shirts this weekend motivated some thoughts on resiliency.
Why did the button fall off in the first place? It was sewn on by machine, a clever bit of automation that is based on interlocking threads from the top of the garment with threads from the bottom. It is fast, efficient, an inexpensive manufacturing process. It’s a sort of leverage.
The downside of machine stitching is that it lacks resiliency. Once any part of the thread suffers a loss of integrity, the entire mechanism begins to unravel. The entire strength of the joint rests on every single link of the chain of fiber, which is under constant stress from motion and washing.
In contrast, when a human sews a button on manually, the same piece of thread is looped around and around. Unlike a sewing machine, a human can push the same needle down from the top, and up from the bottom. This is slow, inefficient, and expensive. The result is a highly robust join of button to shirt with no single point of failure.
The upside of manual stitching is that it maximizes resilience. Even if part of the thread breaks or is worn, the rest of the loops remain in place. The button cannot fall off unless every single loop fails.
No enterprise can afford to hand stitch every single one of its digital buttons, but critical applications need to avoid short cuts that introduce single points of failure.