The Swiss Cheese Approach

“Testing, tracing, vaccination…We will arrive at more of a Swiss cheese approach. Every single thing we’re doing: mask wearing, vaccinations, testing, therapy. Every one is imperfect, like a slice of Swiss cheese. But if we do a dozen of these and lay one over another all the holes are gone. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Larry Brilliant on the Tim Harford podcast

We’ve addressed this idea before, to always fix your weaknesses, but the pandemic response is another opportunity to think roughly about cost-benefit actions.

Most of the time, s-curves, there’s a great return whereas the same fixed effort later is like squeezing the remnants from a tube of toothpaste. The iPhone is a clear example where for many years it was an amazing improvement but each iteration is more novel.

However, the slew of Apple products is like Brilliant’s block of Swiss cheese. Each iPhone, iPad, AirPods, etc. has ‘holes’ but overall the company has few.

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