Google’s cancellation of the Nexus Q launch was a surprise to me, even though I expected its introduction to be an utter disaster. The surprise, from my POV, was that even a company like Google, which is known for experimentation and applying natural selection to its software products, would do the same with hardware.
A useful lesson here is Google’s strategy of introducing new technologies with a small seed, then being completely willing to tank it at any point, regardless of investments or existing userbases. This is the same thing they’ve done with Superbowl TV ads (pulled from the most popular ones on YouTube) and TV ads for the Nexus 7 — purposefully taking a strategy that allows them to collect the maximum amount of data before deciding how and whether to invest.
The fear of failure and any resultant effects on corporate images (in addition to lost sunk costs) pervades well beyond product launches; my colleague James has written about its potential impact upon sustainability initiatives.
Given that Marissa Mayer was one of those trumpeting the “fail fast” mantra at Google and she’s now moved to Yahoo as CEO, I wonder if we’ll see Yahoo move to a more Google-like mentality and whether we’ll observe any changes in the opposite direction at Google. Although cultural effects like a “fail fast” philosophy are pervasive and carry significant inertia, culture remains driven from the top down and can fade away over time.
Failing faster and thus evolving toward smarter and/or cheaper is seen in technology with cloud, for example, and is even entering totally foreign regimes like drug discovery. In pharma, we’re seeing a move toward terminating unpromising lines of research at earlier stages using techniques including computer-aided drug design and fragment-based drug discovery.
Given the new agility accompanying recent developments in technology, everyone should consider how to take advantage of the faster iteration pioneered by open-source software’s “release early, release often” motto.