Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. There's a great scene in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," where his Hitler inspired character, Hynkel, is being shown the regime's latest military invention. But as inventors have long known, you make a mistake and you retool. You tweak. Failure is good and that's the basic idea behind an exhibit at Dublin's Trinity College. The show is called "Fail Better" and Michael John Gorman is the curator. So it's basically the idea behind "If at first you don't succeed, then try, try again"? Was that the starting point?
Michael John Gorman: Yes, very much so, Marco. Fail Better was inspired by the importance of failure in creativity, in invention, from Thomas Edison's light bulbs to Facebook's fail hard.
Werman: Two inventions that stand out for me in this show, one about the Mars Climate Orbiter and another one about a device to help mother elephants give birth. Let's start with the Mars Climate Orbiter. What happened there?
Gorman: The Mars Climate Orbiter was a major 125 million dollar project and it unfortunately never made it to where it was meant to make it in Mars because the different teams involved, there was European teams and US teams, they confused the measurement system. Some people were using the Metric system and some were using the Imperial measurement system, so the whole thing just blew up 170 kilometers from the surface of Mars.
Werman: You actually have an example of what you claim is the world's worst invention. It doesn't really sound like human error. This is that elephant birthing contraption I was talking about. Tell us about it and who came up with that?
Gorman: It's called the Blonsky device. It was invented by an American couple called the Blonsky's and they went to the zoo and they saw a female elephant that was about to give birth and the female elephant was rotating slowly and the zookeeper told them that this was something that all elephants do - not correct in fact - and that it facilitated the birthing process. So then they had the wonderful idea that if elephants can do this, why not humans? So they came up with this invention in 1965 and the invention whirls the expectant mother around extremely quickly, with the idea that the centrifugal force will assist in the delivery of the baby. Fortunately this was never actually built and used. We've rebuilt it for the first time from the patent drawing, so it's actually on display at the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin now.
Werman: There's a mantra, "If you forget the past, you're bound to repeat it." We see examples all the time where that is ignored in terms of history, and yet the idea of failing in areas like innovation and what you've seen in your exhibit is catching on and people see value in failure. How did you get policy makers to pick up the baton of learning from past mistakes?
Gorman: One of the messages of this exhibition is that failure is not always good. It can come at great economic cost, to great social cost and one of the problems with policy-level failures is that they haven't been informed by a process of prototyping, so that when they fail the consequences can be really significant. But I suppose the question we want to ask is how can we introduce a process which is innately familiar to designers and inventors to policy making, where things can be really properly prototyped before they become national level policy.
Werman: Michael John Gorman, he's the curator of "Fail Better." The show is at the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin. Michael, thanks very much.
Gorman: Thank you Marco.
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