Amazon’s VP of Innovation Talks about the Company’s Approach to Failure
Apparently, building a valuable company in this century requires a high level of failure tolerance. Paul Misener, the vice president of Amazon’s global innovation policy and communications, gave the keynote speech at the tech conference of the Retail Week in London. He highlighted the lessons to be learned from Amazon’s growth over the years.
Misener has been with the e-commerce giant for more than 15 years. At this year’s tech conference, he enlightened the audience on how Amazon approach innovation. The key point in his speech was that in order to succeed with new things, you shouldn’t be scared of failing. He said:
“At Amazon, we have a lot of experience with failure. We have failed many times — some very public, colossal ones, some private. But we are failing and we will continue to fail. Many times we will fail going forward, I’m confident of that. It turns out now that fully half of the things sold on Amazon are not sold by Amazon but through other partners. It’s introduced a new class of customer for Amazon, the seller customer.”
He cited some examples of past failures and said the company learned from the failures and made corrections that led to the success of the marketplace, allowing other retailers to sell their product via the website.
Misener said that experimentation is the key to innovation, and failure is just a part of it. “It was this willingness to fail and trying to get things right eventually finally that led us to this very beneficial way of doing business. The whole idea is this: if you really want to be innovative, you have to experiment. If you know the outcome of what you’re going to do, it’s not an experiment. It’s more like a demonstration.”
He mentioned that a lot of people wrongly relate experiments in school science class to real-life experiments.
“Undoubtedly your teacher knew what the outcome was supposed to be and you probably knew what the outcome was supposed to be…….The reason? You weren’t doing an experiment, you were just rehashing an experiment that was done decades, maybe centuries ago. If you’re worried about the outcome being exactly what you hope it is, then you’re not experimenting.
“If you’re not willing to experiment you’ll never actually innovate and if you want to experiment you have to be able to fail — in fact you should try to fail so that it fails quietly, not loudly externally.”
Misener added that: “This willingness to fail, it’s a big deal. I get that that’s hard to adopt because you’ve got all sorts of people — maybe your boss, maybe an investor, maybe the press — looking for failures. That’s not a very fun thing to go through. No one likes to fail. But if you accept that failure is necessary for innovation, it’s actually quite important and it becomes a lot easier to deal with.”
These statements are really interesting and eye-opening, especially coming from Amazon. Who knows, maybe this approach is the reason for the success of Amazon?