“Is failure really a step towards success? – it’s true proved by Google’s research and development lab X?”

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

N Adarsh Varma, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur.

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At the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver the head of Google’s research and development lab X, Astro Teller had spoken about the projects that have failed.

The technology giant has considered building air cargo ships and vast vertical farms but later rejected them. Mr. Teller has revealed that at X, dreams were big but failure was a key part of any project. X which has been described as the Google’s “moon shot” factory, which has launched many successful projects including Google’s driverless car program and Project Loon which is an attempt to use balloons to deliver internet to places that have been traditionally cut off from access.

He revealed that the formula for deciding which projects to pursue was a simple one as he described that they will concentrate on a huge problem that affects millions of people, propose a radical solution and look for a breakthrough technology that can solve it.

Vertical farms

Projects that were left on the cutting room floor have included plans to build vertical farms. Hydroponic farming, in which crops are grown indoors in boxes stacked on top of each other with no need for soil, is seen as a solution for an increasingly urban world population living in crowded cities with little space for land.

We made progress on many of the issues like automated harvesting and efficient lighting but in the end we couldn’t get staple crops like grains and rice to grow this way, so we killed the project.

Others are ploughing ahead with vertical farming. Chicago-based FarmedHere plans to open a $23m (£16m) vertical farm in West Louisville while Japanese firm Fujitsu sells the produce it makes to hospitals, supermarkets and hotels.

Cargo airships

The second project that Mr. Teller revealed that had been ditched later was a plan to build lighter-than-air cargo ships. That was dropped when the team working on it decided that it would cost too much to build a prototype. He said that “You can’t spend $200 million on the first data point of a project”.

Mr. Teller told that the Project Loon is perhaps one of the X’s most outlandish ideas but has been a steep learning curve as he mentioned that “We made round, silvery balloons, we made pillow balloons. We basically burst a lot of balloons”. But, he added Project Loon now appears as a viable solution to the digital divide. He predicted that balloon-based net services along with other technologies would connect the rest of the world in the “next five to ten years”. He also added that this will change the world in ways that we can’t imagine.

Mr. Teller told the audience that Failure is hugely important at X.  He added that “The only way to get people to work on big, risky things – audacious ideas – is to make it safe to fail”.

We can conclude that from Mr. Teller’s words that Failure is indeed a Step towards Success.

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