How Google Kills Ideas to Drive Killer Innovation

Josh Linkner
April 21, 2019

Josh Linkner

Five-time tech entrepreneur, hyper-growth CEO, NY Times bestselling author and venture capitalist.

According to its tombstone, Trendalyzer was a data trend viewing platform that lived a happy life from 2007-2017. Latitude, a location-aware feature of Google Maps, was just over 4 years old before it was euthanized in 2013. Fabric, a platform that helped mobile teams build better apps, was sentenced to death after only one month of life. All in, there are 161 current residents of the Google graveyard, on full display to the world at KilledByGoogle.com.

Of course, the tech giant has enjoyed tremendous success, even becoming an often-used verb ("to Google"). With $136.8 billion in 2018 revenue, the company is valued today at over $860 billion. With such incredible performance, it would be easy to assume the company never fails. Yet the way the organization embraces failure has actually helped vault them to legendary performance.

We are taught in school that failure is the worst possible thing, an evil to be avoided at all costs. Yet time and time again, the most successful companies and careers have proven that missteps are not fatal. Rather, failure is the lifeblood of innovation. Mistakes are the portals of discovery.

At Google, celebrating failure - from the daily disasters to the colossal catastrophes - removes fear and enables creativity. Think about the message that having a public graveyard of killed ideas sends to the nearly 100,0000 Google team members: That all ideas are celebrated, that we can use the data of failure to enable new successes, that it takes some busted initiatives to facilitate breakthrough innovation. It also shows that Google is willing to swing for the fences and willing to let go of previous efforts to discover new ones.

Failure is a part of life and a part of business. If you’re not stumbling at times, you’re probably not trying hard enough. But how does your organization react when the chips fall in an undesirable manner? Do you hide the gaffes, pretending that mistakes never happen? Or do you celebrate them for what they are an inevitable part of the innovation process? By publicly and firmly embracing blunders, you actually liberate creativity. Fear is the kryptonite of innovation; whereas celebrating the losses can become your organization's superpower.

With their history-making success, Google is so proud of their 161 failures, they even built a website of tribute. For you, remove the dark cloud of judgment, eradicate the fear of taking responsible risks, congratulate the smart ideas that didn't eventually work out, and in turn you will harness the incredible creativity of your team. A force that lies dormant in most companies, but can be your most powerful competitive weapon if harnessed.

Here’s to your failures, and as a result, your success.

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