Failing to fail…and then accelerating our success

21 Feb 2017 Sandeep Mehta

Alphabet’s (Google) Project Loon team has an interesting blog post with some interesting thoughts for R&D managers trying to develop disruptive innovations or moonshots.

When you set out to explore a brave, new, weird place that no one’s ever explored before, you bring along a list of things you hope are true and right. And most of the time, you discover that you’re wrong about a lot of those things — which is why I spend so much time talking about failure being a necessary condition of moonshot-taking. I want to help our teams experience this as valuable learning rather than dispiriting setback.

We need to embrace risks and possibility of failure when targeting disruptive innovation. But we also need to manage risks…

All product or technology development has two overall goals:

  • Ensure the system satisfies it objectives
  • Mitigate risks that the system will fail to satisfy its objectives

So, identifying or discovering failure modes and ensuring that the probability of failure is reasonably small is part of all engineering design. In fact, methods such as FMEA help disciplined risk management. Also processes such as spiral development provide interesting approaches for getting disruptive innovations to market.

However, experimentation is even more critical in getting moonshots to market. We need to identify key development challenges and iterate till we eliminate major risks. To me this is what failing to fail means. What we need is discipline around experimentation. I will write more about this in the future, but some foundation has been laid out by DoD and NASA. We also need tools such as InspiRD Execute that can manage iterative development and control costs.

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