The Google Glass "Failure": Why Words Are Important in Innovation

By Danlev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], Wikimedia Commons
By now, you've probably heard that Google has shut down the Google Glass Explorer program. And chances are, you're hearing people describe it as a failure.

This is why we can't have nice things.

When bold ideas such a Glass get branded as failures, it sucks the air out of progress. Instead of wagging our fingers - and our tongues - at the "failure" of the program, we should learn from Google's experimentation and look inward for ideas that need nurturing and incubation. There is much to learn from iteration: try, learn, try again.

Although we may claim to be innovative and agile, especially in development or the startup world, when the going gets tough it seems that support dries up if the outcomes of experimentation are negative.

Are we stifling our own potential to be innovative, as a result?

I love change. And I love talking about innovation and culture change in the workplace. So much so that I've been doing a whole series of talks on Hacking Corporate Culture for the last 15 months. I think that innovation and real transformation happen when people take it upon themselves to make changes to how they work, where they work and how they deliver on their priorities.

That can only happen when culture supports experimentation.

Now, we may claim to be supportive of new ideas but we often couch our "openness" in negative language such as "risk taking" and "permission to fail". This negative tone implies more a culture that is tolerant of innovation, than one that truly aspires to foster it.

Language is important. How we describe huge, challenging, culturally significant experiments like Google Glass is as important as how we describe taking smaller leaps at a personal level.

Consider your workplace: would employees feel more emboldened if the organization described innovation as "idea exploration" and "freedom to experiment," or even "playfulness"?

Openness to creative contributions from employees, rather than forgiveness for trying new things.

Acceptance, not tolerance.

Aren't those terms so much more inviting?

Are we talking about change in a way that really encourages us to run with new ideas?

We should.