Embracing Idiots

Happy birthday to a scion of embracing failure, Henry Petroski – one of the prophets of embracing failure. Part of his failure embracing engineering ethos was pioneering “Idiot-proofing.” That is, designing a something to be used wrong. In his book  “To Engineer is Human” , he cites Peter Drucker’s observation…

  • · “A small percentage of drivers – drunken drivers for instance or the 5% who are accident prone and cause 75% of all accidents – are beyond the reach of driver training…Where we engineered to make cars safe when used right, we also have to engineer to make cars safe when used wrong.”

A classic example of idiot-proofing a car are anti-lock brakes. When I learned to drive decades ago, drivers education included lots of practice pumping the brakes in the event of an emergency stop. But no matter how many times you practice, human nature is such that the vast majority of folks simply punch their foot to the brake pedal when wanting to stop suddenly. The solution to this problem was anti-lock brakes. A electronic mechanism that simply “pumped” the brakes for you whenever the brake pedal is depressed for an extended period.