If At First You Don't Succeed ...
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default. Author J.K. Rowling
(CBS) If at first you don't succeed, the saying says, the thing to do is not give up, but try, try again. When people tell you you should quit, but you don't want to stop, just think about the stories of some people now on top. Mark Strassmann reports our Cover Story.
If any good came out of last year's collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis it may be the opportunity to learn, following a wave of bridge inspections nationwide spurred by the failure.
A report out this week by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials finds more than 150,000 bridges are in need of repair.
In the wake of a failure, very typically there will be a renewed caution.
Duke University professor Henry Petroski has made a career studying design failures, which he says are far more interesting than successes.
"Successes teach us very little," Petroski said. "A successful design doesn't tell us how close to failure it might be.
In fact, building on success, Petroski argues, often leads to failure, and bridges provide a dramatic example.
"Typically, the longer you go without a failure, the more confident we become," he said. "But there's then a seemingly unavoidable temptation to then start cutting corners."
Take the example of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington - a long, slender suspension bridge that opened in July of 1940 that was 57 years after engineer John Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge - one of the earliest and most famous suspension bridges opened in New York.
The designer of the Tacoma bridge was guilty, perhaps, of engineering hubris - pushing the limits of suspension bridge design, and even reducing the number of support cables to create a sleeker look.
It was barely four months after the Tacoma bridge opened that 40 mile-an-hour winds all but turned its thin steel span to rubber. The wobbly bridge stood for about an hour until it collapsed.
"That bridge was built deliberately as a slender, aesthetically-pleasing bridge," Petroski said, "and all the lessons from the 19th century that John Roebling had laid out in the Brooklyn Bridge had been forgotten."
Of course it's not just bridges. From occupants in the White House, to the cars we drive, to the people we celebrate, failures and perceived failures are all around us.
Sometimes when things fail, they were simply ahead of their time. Did you know the fax machine was actually a failed invention in the 1840s?
The copy machine was invented in 1937, but the idea was rejected by the likes of GE and IBM. It would be 10 years before Xerox's machine would make its debut.
And the Apple Newton - the first handheld PDA - was a flop, but its innovations can be seen today in the wildly successful iPhone
link to full story: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/03/sunday/main4317448.shtml