Success through failure

Henry Petroski wrote a wonderful book ‘Success through failure’ on the importance of failures in the design of successful projects, buildings, policies etc. Petroski is a professor in civil engineering and history at Duke university. The book stress the importance of failures in designing successes. Building only on successes might actually lead to severe failures. Petroski discuss designs of various objects like presentations (from the cave to powerpoint), bridges, sky crapers, etc. A lot of these designs are improvements of earlier designs. Due to thinkering with previous designs, previous failures are avoided, but new ones may occur. By being open to learn from failures, robust designed objects may evolve.cover

An interesting observation is the regularity of major failures in the design of bridges. Every generation of engineers, a major failure occurs. Probably with a new generation, lessons from previous failures get ignored or forgotten, and less emphasis is made on double checking and testing the designs.




One thought on “Success through failure”

  1. As we continue to expect more and more from our engineered world, we can continue to expect more failures, having learnt from past failures or not. Perhaps with bridges we are driving more vehicles over them, spanning wider distances, or building them on less favourable terrain.

    Failures will always arrive faster than our ability to learn from them, but if we slow the development phase to one more commuunsurate with that of learning from these past failures, things would like a bit more rosy.

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