Learning from Mistakes

July 5, 2024

This summer my wife and I climbed the famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa” in Italy. This now incredibly well-known tourist stop is a wonder to see and ascend. While the most celebrated, it is not even the most impressive of the four structures located in the Cathedral Square of Pisa. The Pisa Baptistry, Cathedral itself and Cloistered Cemetery are equally remarkable and certainly larger structures. The other three structures however exist in the shadow of the mistake made by one of the architects when calculating foundations for the bell tower.

During construction the tower started to lean. Rather than shore up the foundation, they chose to increase the size of the marble blocks on the downhill side. Simple enough cure, but the uphill side then began to sink even more. So, the bad idea got worse when they increased the block size on the other side. As you gaze up the center of the bell tower, you can see and witness for yourself this noodle of a building cure.

Over time, the structure began to lean more and more until in 1993 they added 870 metric tons of lead counterweights into the structure. Because of the importance of the tourist attraction of the tower, the government and church decided to repair the tower while leaving the “lean” intact at a safe level. After subsurface and structural upgrades that took place over more than a decade, engineers noted that the structure had stopped moving. It was declared safe for another 200 years and opened to the public.

Grampion’s lessons from this tower:

  • If what you are doing is clearly not working, stop.
  • If the fix of your mistake is failing, get some more help.
  • When your mistake is so huge that everyone can see it, build a tourist attraction that will last longer than 850 years.
  • People are very forgiving of mistakes when you own them.

July 5, 2024

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