The New York Times uses the Deepwater Horizon disaester to illustrate the principle of learning from engineering disaesters.
While that idea may sound paradoxical, it is widely accepted among engineers. They say grim lessons arise because the reasons for triumph in matters of technology are often arbitrary and invisible, whereas the cause of a particular failure can frequently be uncovered, documented and reworked to make improvements.
Disaster, in short, can become a spur to innovation.
There is no question that the trial-and-error process of building machines and industries has, over the centuries, resulted in the loss of much blood and many thousands of lives. It is not that failure is desirable, or that anyone hopes for or aims for a disaster. But failures, sometimes appalling, are inevitable, and given this fact, engineers say it pays to make good use of them to prevent future mistakes.
The result is that the technological feats that define the modern world are sometimes the result of events that some might wish to forget.
“It’s a great source of knowledge — and humbling, too — sometimes that’s necessary,” said Henry Petroski, a historian of engineering at Duke University and author of “Success Through Failure,” a 2006 book. “Nobody wants failures. But you also don’t want to let a good crisis go to waste.”