Kathryn Schulz

The joys of screwing up

October 21, 2010: 1:00 PM ET

At the annual Pop!Tech convention, failure is everywhere. That's a good thing.

Too hot for frogs

Would he get out if he were with his friends? (Photo: Wollombi/Flickr)

The Rube Goldberg-like contraption that was supposed to launch the Pop!Tech 2010 failed this morning. A robot took the stage and attempted to start a chain of amusing events—a ball rolling down a track, stacks of books and chairs tumbling domino style, bi-planes flying, culminating with a flood of red balloons cascading down on the 500 people assembled. But, for a variety of reasons, it didn't work.

Stage hands threw things and even came on stage to manually get the domino effect back on track. It was awkward. Finally, after much intervention, the balloons came pouring down. Everyone applauded.

At any other conference, it would have been a disaster.

Not here. It was the perfect way to launch a conference celebrating failure.

In fact, failure was anticipated as a possible and not unwelcome outcome. Andrew Zolli, the curator and emcee off the TED-like conference, which occurs annually in Camden, Maine, said that when they were rehearsing the opening sequence, people fretted over whether the contraption would work. If it did, it would be the awesomest opener ever, the ever-animated Zolli pointed out.

"And if it fails, it will be a manifestation of the theme of the conference. There is no way we can lose," he said, after the theme manifested itself, this morning. More

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