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Clean rooms: a classic case of underpromising and overperforming

By: Don Loepp

December 5, 2012

A lot of today's plastics industry wouldn't exist without clean rooms, especially in the medical sector. Did you know that when the technology was first invented, the developer understated how well they worked -- by a factor of 10?

That snippet of news comes from an obituary in today's New York Times for Willis Whitfield the inventor of the clean room, who died Nov. 12 at age 92.

It was a classic case of underpromising and overperforming.

"People said he was a fraud," Gilbert V. Herrera, the director of microsystems science and technology at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., told the Times. "But he turned out to be right."

As a reporter, I've seen plenty of cases of companies that do the opposite -- overpromising and underperforming. (And plenty of similar examples in the world of politics, too).

But the companies that downplay expectations and then consistently exceed them stand out for me, and I imagine many blog readers feel the same way.