Failure is always an option at Google.
“If you’re making the right decision, even if you get a bad result, you’re not really wrong.”
Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong, interviews Peter Norvig, the director of research at Google. Some excerpts:
As an engineer, you’re just used to the idea that there are errors. No matter how good you think you are, the industry standard is that if you write 100 lines of program, there’s probably going to be one error in it. So you have to build all your systems expecting that. We built an entire development process around the idea that errors exist and the need to minimize their impact.
We do it by trying to fail faster and smaller. The average cycle for getting something done at Google is more like three months than three years. And the average team size is small, so if we have a new idea, we don’t have to go through the political lobbying of saying, “Can we have 50 people to work on this?” Instead, it’s more done bottom up: Two or three people get together and say, “Hey, I want to work on this.” They don’t need permission from the top level to get it started because it’s just a couple of people; it’s kind of off the books.
When you talk about being wrong, I think of that mostly from a statistical inference point of view, and within the company, we’re really good at making decisions based on statistics. So if we have an idea—”You know, here’s a way I can make search better”—we’re really good at saying, “Well, let’s do an experiment. Let’s compare the old way with the new way and try it out on some sample searches.” And we’ll come back with a number and we’ll know if it’s better and how much better and so on.
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