How Google and the Web turn failure into success
Failure need not be the opposite of success, as Web entrepreneurs have learned.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- What does Google have to do with failure? Leading a panel called Understanding the Internet's Future at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in early October, Arianna Huffington flogged her new book, On Becoming Fearless, and tossed out an intriguing fact about Google's culture of fearlessness: "Whatever products Google is developing, they are incorporating a 60 to 70 percent failure rate," the Huffington Post founder/editor noted to Google VP Marissa Mayer, who shared the stage with Morgan Stanley Internet analyst Mary Meeker and Motorola (Charts) chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior.
"What would happen," Huffington inquired, "if we, in our own lives, would incorporate a 60-70 percent failure rate? How much more risk-taking would we be?"
Marissa didn't exactly dish to Arianna, but the fast-rising Google (Charts) exec, who oversees search products and user experience, explained how trying "a lot of things" and staying "very agile" is key to Google's amazing growth. (See the Internet Roundtable for full remarks.) Fortune explored this theme in Adam Lashinsky's recent cover story "Chaos by design".
And as I watched Mayer and Huffington chat about the positive aspects of failure, I couldn't stop thinking about another Fortune cover story, "So You Fail. Now Bounce Back!" I wrote this story in May 1995, before most Internet entrepreneurs even existed.
The story generated huge buzz a decade ago, and while most of the relevant names and faces have changed, the themes resonate. In today's rapid-fire competitive landscape, where change is constant and business models slip quickly into obsolescence, you must get a grip on failure, and understand how to recover quickly.
As this story explains, failure need not be the opposite of success. Indeed, most great figures from the 20th century - from Walt Disney to Winston Churchill, Henry Ford to Bill Gates - could be deemed a failure at some point on some level.
The story outlines the keys to turning a potentially career-busting failure into future success:
Seek out a crisis. Sometimes taking responsibility for a big mistake can help you stand out in the corporate crowd.
Visualize the next big win. You can't let setbacks keep you from focusing on the ultimate goals.
See yourself as others do. Another perspective on yourself, no matter how humiliating, can open your eyes to what you can best achieve.
Read the full story for the complete set of tips and anecdotes.