The mailman delivered some used books to my house this week, so I expect to be blogging a bit about their content in the coming weeks. Two are by longtime favorite Henry Petroski, a civil engineering professor at Duke University. Dr. Petroski has been writing about design engineering for many years and was one of the first people I can recall to talk about “failure” in a positive way.
Our national debate on educational standards has broadened this “failure” debate to include schools, administrators, and teachers. No one dares call children or parents or grandparents failures, however, so the discussion can seem a little ideological (rather than logical) at times.
All of us were failures at something for varying lengths of time. We all fell down a lot before we could walk. It took forever for anyone but close family members to understand a word we spoke. Most of us managed to learn to ride a bike before the pain of crashing became too much to bear. A sizeable group of people have not learned to swim because early failures were just too terrifying.
Why are we so impatient with our children over the pace of their intellectual knowledge acquisition? Some children take longer than others to learn a sport; some never get the hang of it. What gets the superstar to that level of accomplishment is not a lucky draw in the genetic lottery — although that clearly helps. What succeeds above all is persistence, good coaching, and a passion to succeed at whatever that activity is.
These same things apply in your work/school life. If you want to master any subject or task, you need to stick with it and find a more accomplished person to coach you. In our trade that “coach” is often a well-thumbed reference book; I am extremely grateful for the “founding fathers” putting pencil to paper. Writing about gears or most other topics does not pay well in a monetary sense, so our canon of gear books is truly a blessing from the past.