Eric Schmidt Says "Failure Is Actually A Good Thing"

Most recently, Google Wave’s official blog site announced they are going to shutdown their most innovative, most expected, buzzing service Google Wave development from the next month. From there, Google’s director of research Peter Norvig and CEO of Google Inc, Eric Schmidt has given some interesting speech in different interview session.

Google is a company that has a lot of ambitious projects and it’s inevitable that some of them will fail. Eric Schmidt says that failure is actually a good thing.

“We try things. Remember, we celebrate our failures. This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.”

Google’s Peter Norvig has a more detailed explanation for this attitude:

“If you’re a politician, admitting you’re wrong is a weakness, but if you’re an engineer, you essentially want to be wrong half the time. If you do experiments and you’re always right, then you aren’t getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.”

In fact, Peter Norvig says that Google is a company where failure is always an option:

“I think Google was early in accepting hardware errors. Other companies have tried to say, ‘Well, if you can buy big, expensive computers that are more reliable, then you’ll have fewer breakdowns and you’ll do better.’ Google decided to buy lots of cheap computers that break down all the time, but because they’re so much cheaper, you can design the system with multiple backups and ways to route around problems and so forth. We just architect the system to expect failure.”

Why there are so many Google products discontinued after a few months or a few years of development? Peter Norvig thinks that’s a by-product of Google’s rapid development model.

“We [try] to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don’t have to go through the political lobbying of saying, “Can we have 50 people to work on this?” Instead, it’s more done bottom up: Two or three people get together and say, “Hey, I want to work on this.” They don’t need permission from the top level to get it started because it’s just a couple of people; it’s kind of off the books.”

Google’s director of research Peter Norvig was interviewed by Slate:

Google has been remarkably successful at creating popular products. How does the company create a culture that’s conducive to generating new ideas?

Well, we have great people, and that’s a huge part of it. But I think the main thing is just trying a lot of ideas. We’ve built the ultimate system for making demos internally. If a startup company has an idea, it’s like, “Well, I need a copy of the Web to make my idea work, I need a thousand computers, I gotta go raise money to do that.” So they spend months or years raising money and building infrastructure.

Whereas we have all of that. Somebody can learn how to use it in their first day and say, “OK, I have an idea, and these pieces are already here, and I can just connect them together and see if it works.” And if it doesn’t work today, next week I’ll have another idea. And I haven’t wasted months going down one path. It’s like playing with tinker toys or something. You plug ’em together, you try something, and if you think it’s good, you keep going. And if it isn’t, you put them down and start on something new.

[ via Google Blogoscoped | GoogleOS ]

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