Do You Have
the Courage to Fail?
By Holly G.
If you follow the tech industry you probably noticed Google’s
decision to shut down their much-ballyhooed Google Wave after only
one year of operation. You might also have noticed the “wave” of
criticism from technology bloggers and industry writers that
For those not familiar with it, Google Wave is a real-time
collaboration tool that combines various forms of online
communication. Some industry experts predicted that it would
dramatically change the way we communicate and collaborate online.
But it never developed the user base that Google anticipated, so
they decided to pull the plug on the product. According to their
blog, Google will continue to maintain the site through the end of
the year, and will extend the technology into other Google
projects. But they will cease all development of Google Wave as a
Many industry writers took Google to task for this decision.
Why did they shut it down after such a short time? How could they
misjudge the market so badly? And with all their talent, creativity
and resources, how could they make such a costly blunder? I
disagree. I say good for Google for recognizing a mistake and
knowing when to cut their losses and move on!
Far too often, companies stay the course when the evidence
overwhelmingly indicates that a sharp turn is required. Even
experienced business leaders will frequently bury their heads in the
sand and plow ahead with a product or service that the market
clearly doesn’t value. In this case, to their credit, Google saw
the writing on the wall and made the tough decision to terminate the
Wave. I also say good for Google for having the courage to fail.
Failure is an integral part of innovation, especially the
kind that disrupts markets. If you’re not willing to take risks and
experience failure, it greatly reduces your chances of coming up
with real breakthrough products or services. Why do most companies
have a hard time admitting failure? The easy answer is that people
don’t want to look bad. Or they fear losing their jobs. Or they
keep thinking that if they stick with it, success is just around the
corner. But there’s more to it than that.
Admitting failure requires us
some of our most basic assumptions about ourselves and our notions
of success. It requires that we examine the way we think and make
decisions, an often uncomfortable and unsettling process.
For example, a
common theme in many product failures is overconfidence in (or
inaccurate assessment of) our own abilities. The underlying
assumption is that we’ve thought through everything about the product, so there
must be something wrong with the market, the customer, the economy,
the timing, etc. In other words, it’s not our fault.
Another common assumption, and one that is deeply embedded in
our culture, says that hard work and persistence will eventually win
out. This often goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that we’ve
invested so much time and money in the product that we can’t afford
to quit. Month after month the market indicates that it doesn’t
value the product. Yet we keep thinking that we just need a little
more time to make it work.
Perhaps the most difficult assumption to overcome is the idea
that behind every product failure lies a simple answer. In our
increasingly complex world, we crave simple answers. So we seek to
blame failures on one thing going wrong versus a combination of
factors. More often than not, however, careful examination uncovers
a host of reasons for the failure, not the least of which are our
own misguided assumptions about our customers and our markets.
I also give Google credit for how they’re handling the
situation. I don’t see any heads rolling or fingers being pointed.
I don’t see any public hand wringing or browbeating. And I don’t see
any signs of “We’ll never do that again!” Instead, Google has
simply made a decision to cut their losses, learn from the mistakes,
and move on.
This no-nonsense attitude sends a powerful message to
employees and the general public that Google values innovation and
considers it an integral part of how they do business. More
important, it shows they are willing to take risks and accept the
consequences when they don’t pan out.
Others may chastise Google for pulling the plug too soon and
missing the mark so badly with Google Wave. But I applaud their
good business judgment and their willingness to fail – two
leadership skills we could all use more of!
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
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