Today’s guest blogger is Tim Eyre. He’s a loyal reader of the blog and when he teed up a topic for me to write about, I turned the tables and asked him to write about the topic himself! You can read more about Tim at the end of the post.
Google must be the world’s failure leader.
But how can that be, when Google is widely known as the world’s most successful search engine? How can that be, when Google has become such a powerful corporation that some people worry about the privacy implications of letting Google handle their email, keep their credit card information in an online shopping profile, monitor and forward their newsfeed subscriptions, and keep tabs on all their searches?
Google’s power has become so notorious that The Onion regularly targets the search giant for its parodies. “We would like to extend our deepest apologies to each and every one of you,” announced CEO Eric Schmidt, teased a recent Onion front page story, “Clearly there have been some privacy concerns as of late, and judging by some of the search terms we’ve seen, along with the tens of thousands of personal e-mail exchanges and Google Chat conversations we’ve carefully examined, it looks as though it might be a while before we regain your trust.” Is that the Google I want to crown as the king of failure?
Yes, yes, and yes. You too can (and should) learn to fail like Google.
Just how did Google get to the top of the heap? By embracing the mantra that has been heard so often lately around the business world: “Fail fast.”
By now, quite a few business experts have weighed in on the idea of failing fast. Most agree that the key to making fast failure a successful business strategy is to nurture a corporate culture that values failure and, hence, rewards risk-taking. In fact, the “fail fast” mantra could be replaced with a more accurate one that would read something like “Don’t look too long before you leap!”
Several companies have become poster children for the idea of embracing failure in order to learn from it. Domino’s Pizza started a new advertising campaign based on the idea. India’s Tata Group offers a prize to its employees for the best failed idea. And software giant Intuit and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly both host regular “failure parties.”
But Google really puts its money where its mouth is, launching new products at light speed and then monitoring to see if those products sink or swim in the marketplace. Frankly, far more of Google’s products sink than swim. Remember Google Wave? Google Notebook? Google Catalogs? You can go, right now, to Google’s Lab page and try to predict which of the new beta experiments is going to sink and which is going to swim. Google Scribe? Google Body? Art Project powered by Google? Fast Flip (super fast overviews of headline news)? Google Goggles (searches powered by images from camera phones)? Google Listen (an application that sets up a personal news audio magazine for the listener)? Google Labs has, literally, at the time of this writing, eight pages of new projects that have been cast upon the waters to sink or swim.
And to me, that is what makes Google the model for anyone trying to apply this approach to business success. Google’s approach captures the basic rules of the “fail fast” philosophy – the aspects of “failing fast” that need to be present in order for it to work:
Put the new product or service out on the market for a small group. You can even minimize the aura of possible failure, as Google and many tech companies do, by calling this phase “beta testing.” The truth is, “beta testing” is just PR spin for taking a risk, throwing something out, and being prepared to fail fast.
Don’t put a lot of money into a new product or service. Make the minimum possible investment in it until you see whether it is going to fail fast or take off.
Fail as part of the process of finding your way toward the new product or service that will eventually succeed. The term “beta testing” is not just p.r. It has an element of truth to it – the point of tossing something out to see how it does is to learn from it and build upon whatever can be learned from the experience.
Don’t Fail for the Sake of Failure
Fail accidentally, as part of a corporate that values failure not for its own sake, but for the sake of encouraging employees to value risk. Because appreciating failure is not truly about appreciating failure. It’s about recognizing that playing it safe won’t earn you skyrocketing returns over the long run – playing it safe WILL keep you safe in the short run, but in the long run, the only way a business can survive and expand is to take risks and evolve, perhaps even making radical changes to adapt to a changing marketplace.
What’s the true lesson we should learn from the Google story? It’s not so much “fail fast.” It’s “risk little, but risk often.”
– Tim Eyre works in the self storage industry, regularly traveling to see locations like Trenton self storage. In locations like Chicago self storage Tim helps midwesterners store seasonal equipment when it’s not being used for outdoor activities or construction projects.