Nat Torkington: better, stronger, faster failures

Home-town hero Nat Torkington, ex (and sometimes current) alumni of O’Reilly media is always a good choice for an entertaining show, he didn’t disappoint this time!

What is the ultimate feedback loop? Science needs failures to progress, Torkington gave historical examples to prove his contention. Within technology we also use a failure fuelled feedback loop - he gave some examples of this

  • A/B testing proves a failed approach and, by extension a successful one
  • OpenSource software development - “scratching our own particular itch”
  • The community determines failure – Digg, Slashdot, Flickr

The danger of this is homophily or showing people only the things they like. From serendipity comes progress…

Evolution is yet another example of a feedback failure loop. The failures fall by the wayside in the act of natural selection.

Innovation = An invention that you can sell. Joseph Schumpeter came up with the theory of creative destruction;

Capitalism, then, is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. And this evolutionary character of the capitalist process is not merely due to the fact that economic life goes on in a social and natural environment which changes and by its change alters the data of economic action; this fact is important and these changes (wars, revolutions and so on) often condition industrial change, but they are not its prime movers. Nor is this evolutionary character due to a quasi-automatic increase in population and capital or to the vagaries of monetary systems, of which exactly the same thing holds true. The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers, goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.

So why do big companies struggle in the face of obvious innovation? Because the status-quo is so powerful for them that there is too much inertia to overcome (a recurring theme for this particular commentator). Torkington contended that the best a big company can do is hope that a smaller company will innovate and will then be able to be acquired – the big companies are just too removed from the feedback loop to react to evolutionary, or innovationary, forces.

The current debate in New Zealand over the s92 Copyright Act are examples of a citizen fuelled feedback loop – will Government listed? Time will tell.

Look for situations where you can test your hypotheses and don’t be afraid to fail so long as you learn from that failure. The only thing bad about failure is not learning. Above all….. fail small

fail... forward... fast...