Alex Altman is the chief executive of Initiative
Alex Altman is the chief executive of Initiative
A view from Alex Altman

Alex Altman: Embracing failure is the best way to achieve success

Who remembers Google Knol?

Thought not. What about Facebook Deals or Google Answers? Just three examples of products from the two biggest tech companies in the world that failed and were quietly closed. How did Google and Facebook react? Did they fire the team leaders and those who supported the initiatives? On the contrary - I suspect the creators of these products are held in the highest regard and encouraged to create something else.

I've just returned from the IPA "interactive mission" to Silicon Valley and Hollywood. The trip was the vision of Nicola Mendelsohn, the IPA president. The opportunity was to meet leading technology and content companies to discuss and debate how our respective companies can work ever closer. As Nicola puts it: "For these companies to see the UK as a hotbed for innovation as we seek better connections with these industries."

We met 19 companies over five days: you name them, we saw them. Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, Zynga, IDEO, Disney, Warner, Fox - not forgetting the academics at Stanford and the Institute for Creative Technologies. The sessions were around two hours each and we settled easily into a pattern of presentation, discussion and questions. (Apart from anything else, the presentations gave us all a useful insight into what it must be like for clients when they embark on a round of pitches. Lesson: what really matters is brilliant people with fantastic content.)

There was much discussion and debate about many varied topics. There was much to differentiate the companies and there were many similarities - notably, the high quality of the catering and of the gifts we received (I've returned with six rather wonderful Moleskine-type notebooks).

There was, however, one recurring theme - evident in pretty much every company we met: failure. It's not something they strive for but it is something they are comfortable with. The argument is probably not new to many of us and it is really a pretty obvious point - if you don't fail occasionally, then you're not trying hard enough. What was striking on our trip, though, was the extent to which it is part of the culture, process and even finances of these organisations. These leading companies are absolutely comfortable with the notion of getting things wrong, learning and moving on.

The trip has confirmed to me our infinite capacity to innovate, to create and to progress. Our ever-present challenge is how to unlock this in our own businesses. My advice? I suggest we hire the people, develop the culture and reward the behaviours that encourage and embrace failure: from what I saw in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, it's clearly the best route to success.

Alex Altman is the chief executive of Initiative