Success through Failure

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Success through Failure

            According to Petroski, the mother of invention or the driving force behind invention is not need; rather, it is the desire for satisfaction concerning things we would love to do, (1). The frustrations that people go through when a tool fails them or fails to perform as desired drives them to create better tools or improve the current ones to fit their wants. Without such failure, it would be hard to invent other tools as long as the current ones are still serving all the purposes required. Invention comes through separation of cause or failure to focus on its elimination. Through this process, a solution is found, which eliminates the failure.

Petroski sites an example of a hammer, where rocks were used as the hammer. When they failed to perform as required, better hammers would be sought. If a hammer stone was required to shatter another stone but was shattered instead upon striking the stone, they would realize it was weaker, and the stronger stone would be used. Through their failures, it was realized that a harder rock would be needed until again it was found that even harder rocks failed. Through elimination of failures in the rock hammers, better ones came (Petroski 2). This purports to say that through seeking to eliminate failure, better tools and ways of doing things are achieved. It is through this desire to eliminate failure that results in success.

Petroski sites an interesting story concerning migration in the early days. “The circadian and seasonal rhythms of nature drove the development of patterns of rest and migration,” (Petroski 2). He sites that it is through realizing that when all members of a group sleep at the same time they risked danger since no one could warn them. This drove them to eliminate this failure. Having a person on watch during the night, was to correct this problem. More so, they realized that to eliminate the problem further, sleeping in a cave where there was a small entrance was better since it could be watched easily. We could say that through such desire to correct such failures, people now live in houses. Had there been no danger and no adverse weather conditions such as rain, man would have felt comfortable, and probably, we could still be sleeping in the open.

Lectures are offered through power point presentation in the current times. However, this did not come in a single invention, but through progress form the earliest times when people had to carry projectors. It is through failures such that people thought of ways to solve them, and through computers, a better design was placed (Petroski 24). Currently, people are moving form the PowerPoint to the digital devices that can be hand held to fit the same needs. He also cites that all technologies have limitations, which people choose to adapt to through using the technology. However, the desire to eliminate the limitations results in better devices, as well as technologies.

Petroski also uses examples of heavier works such as steam engines, railroads and bridges to illustrate his point. He points out that during the time railroads were made; no bridges could support such weights (Petroski 156). The bridges had only been built for lighter weights. Therefore, the need to correct this arose. The bridges were manly suspended, and the wind was their greatest enemy. Therefore, the engineers had to study the failures of suspended bridges to come up with better designs.  If there had been no failure with the suspended bridges, the engineers could have gone ahead to make suspended bridges for railroads without considering their weaknesses. It is because of the desire to eliminate the limitation success was achieved.

The titanic is yet another example of success through failure. “Imagine that the titanic had not struck the iceberg on her maiden voyage,” (Petroski 95). The issue of an unsinkable boat could have been realized, and many others could have probably been produced with the same designs. Several failures were realized from the accident, which inspired the later designs. It was realized that a ship should carry enough lifeboats in case of sinking. Had the titanic crossed the Atlantic, engineers could not have realized the need for having enough lifeboats. More so, radios were allowed to run even during the night, to ask for help from nearby ships. It was through this failure that engineers realized they would have to eliminate them to have better designs.


Work cited

Petroski, Henry. Success through failure: the paradox of design. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. Print.

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