Astro Teller, Head of Google[x], said something very interesting about failure at the Washington Ideas Forum. He was explaining why Google[x] only talks to the public about the projects they think actually might happen.
“It is the essence of innovation to fail most of the time,” Teller said. However, “if the rest of the world doesn’t see ending a project as a success moment, even if we do, then people will become emotionally attached to the projects, they won’t want to look like a quote-unquote failure in the public eye.”
For Google[x], fear of failure is a factor that could stifle creativity and innovation – hence the radio silence.
Is this fear also an issue for tech start-ups, who are prime innovators, after all?
Start-ups might not be under the same spotlight, scrutinised like Google, but neither do they have the luxury of developing in silence. Indeed, monetised and freemium models require you to be ‘loud and proud’ about your app/service to build a critical mass of users.
We know that entrepreneurs are resilient to failure and dust themselves down if their first tech start-up doesn’t go as far as planned – countless biographies, magazine articles and interviews tell us so. When it comes to the engineers, professionals and interns involved as a start-up begins to scale, however, we don’t hear stories about bouncing back so often.
Does this create a recruitment problem for tech start-ups? The inherent risk of working in such an environment limits the talent available on the jobs market. The majority of engineers, developers and marketers seek the perceived security of a career ladder. But I’d argue that some of the most exciting talents recognise the opportunities inherent in the high growth sector, where innovation and enthusiasm aren’t constrained by management boundaries.
The Atlantic article commenting on Astro Teller’s interview also suggested a public fear of failure, if their egos get involved in an exciting but ‘out there’ project that doesn’t quite come to fruition. For start-ups, though, I believe that public ‘loss of face’ is less of an issue. Early adopter users and beta trial users, who invest time and belief in your start-up’s services, enjoy discovering and championing new, exciting tech. Expectations are lower, of course, relative to Google[x]. That said, the added publicity of something like a Kickstarter success does raise the stakes!
Fear of failure should be a non-issue for growing tech start-ups.
In the absolute ‘worst case’ scenario everyone involved – including engineers, developers, beta testers and users – experiences the bleeding edge of new tech. There is also the impact of being part of communities brimming with new possibilities, from Tech City to Kickstarter. In the ‘best case’ scenarios, early recruits in a high growth tech company can gain prestige, considerable influence across the business and significant share options, and early adopters like Bitcoin user Kristoffer Koch can see huge rewards too!