Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Success and Failure

Today's New York Times has a fascinating article interviewing Henry Petroski, an engineer. "Failure is central to engineering," he is quoted as saying. "Successful engineering is about understanding how things break or fail." His first book was a catalog of calamity entitled "To Engineer is Human." He preaches a gospel of failure in talks and publications in which he offers lessons such as "success masks failure." The more successful something is the more we are confident in it, preferring to ignore tiny defects that may indeed indicate far more severe problems.

Anything I have published has been far better for critiques. There's also a more important point: the notion that success lies in failure. Wisdom from the desert fathers and mothers puts it this way:

One day the devil appeared as an angel of light to a monk in his cell. "I am not worthy to receive an angel of light" said the monk. And the devil departed, overcome by the monk's humility.

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