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The Gulf Of Disapproval

The Gulf Of Disapproval

You could say this post literally fell in my lap. You see, I am writing today’s editorial on a Mac for the first ever time. Those of you that know me personally may recall me disparagingly referring to the offerings of Apple’s ecosystems as McBooks and blaming pretty much all of society’s problems on iPhones. Nevertheless, here I am, staring into the 13.3” diagonal of what’s already the best laptop I’ve ever owned. So let’s talk about how this.

Do you know what the Gulf of Disapproval is? Like the Uncanny Valley– it’s a fictional geological formation formed on one of those badly quantified graphs management consultants like to wheel out. It states that when you release something new you’ll get a steady stream of early adopters that will evangelicalise your product. But at the same time you’ll get people that dismiss your idea out of hand.

Those that dismiss your idea will likely increase faster than those who love it; as people who aren’t “ready” for the idea will be forced to hear about it from the aforementioned early adopters. However the haters will start to slow as more and more moderates are swayed by the evangelists. As the product becomes successful it will start to be re-contextualised for those that dismissed it, and they’ll start to be converted at an accelerated rate. And suddenly everyone likes it.

The point immediately before the haters turn is call the Gulf of Disapproval. It’s the point where the majority of voices are against you. It’s where those ambassadors of your idea haven’t quite worked out what the majority need to hear to understand why it’s great; but enough people have been put off it from what little they’ve seen. It’s also the point that a lot of start-ups fail; although I’m not going to focus on that.


For engineers I think being aware of this has a twofold usage. Firstly, most major projects are subject to The Gulf of Disapproval. Everyone apparently hates something before it’s built; people have rallied against pretty much all of our famous tall buildings, famous bridges, or feats of infrastructure. Understanding that this is the nature of people should help give those of us pouring ourselves into these projects heart.

The second point is for those changes that are flowing through engineering at the moment. Engineers are fairly resistant to change, so we’re good at creating epic Gulfs of Disapproval. I’m looking at the efforts to establish digital engineering, the Eurocodes, the CDM Regs. It seems that it’s easy for us to dismiss things and create a cloud of disapproval around them before we’ve really given them a chance.

And while I’m not saying that, as a profession, we should fully embrace positivity and become Hare Krishna– we could do with really giving things a fair shot before we dismiss them. Although perhaps that’s just symptomatic of the relatively short time we have to invest in investigating new things given the constant drive to just deliver?

As for the McBook? Well- I spent something close to 10 years dismissing them; pretty much because my cursory glance saw them as over-priced glamour items for people more convinced with looks then capability. And now I own one, and I like it; I wonder if I had at least tried the original, if I would have actually liked it…

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