Henry Petroski on The Value of Failure in Q

A Bridge Too Far

Slender, elegant and graceful, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge stretched like a steel ribbon across Puget Sound in 1940. The third longest suspension span in the world opened on July 1st. Only four months later, the great span’s short life ended in disaster. “Galloping Gertie,” collapsed in a windstorm on November 7,1940.


Leaders in all channels of culture wrestle with the fear of failure. But Duke University engineering professor Henry Petroski, author of To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, says failure is important because of the information it reveals and because it combats the human tendency to grow overconfident.

Failure such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse”reveals weaknesses, helps make things stronger and offers lessons in humility.” Even failures that happened 2,000 years ago can still be instructive today, if we’re willing to learn from them…