Thinking of building a better mousetrap? Look First to Failure.

Henry Petroski is a professor at Duke University, specializing in failure analysis. He makes a particularly interesting assertion: Things work because they work in a particular configuration, at a particular scale, and in a particular culture. Without due consideration for all these dynamics, things simply just fail.

The MKTG465 Introduction of New Products and Services course, taught by Professor Razeghi, starts with a fun little reading by Petroski, "Look First to Failure". I like this excerpt from this article:
John Roebling, master of the suspension bridge form, looked for inspiration not to successful examples of the state of the art but to historical failures. From those he distilled the features and forces that are the enemies of bridges and designed his own to avoid those features and resist those forces. Such failure-based thinking gave us the Brooklyn Bridge, with its signature diagonal cables, which Roebling included to steady the structure in winds he knew from past example could be its undoing.
But when some bridge builders in the 1930s followed effective models, including Roebling’s, they ended up with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the third-longest suspension bridge in the world and the largest ever to collapse in the wind. In the process of “improving” on Roebling’s design, the very cables that he included to obviate failure were left out in the interests of economy and aesthetics.
When a complex system succeeds, that success masks its proximity to failure.
This gives us food for thought, as we think about building that "better mousetrap" -- that better way of solving whatever customer pain we are striving to resolve with our new products and services.

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