Friday, August 6, 2010

Failure Is Always an Option at Google

Google is a company that has a lot of the ambitious projects and it's inevitable that some of them will fail. Eric Schmidt says that failure is also 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 on 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 the 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 to 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."

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