What Innovators Learn from the Google Glass Failure

By Shlomo Maital

Google glass

Diane von Furstenberg wearing Google glasses

OK, Google Glass has failed.  Google announced last week that it is ‘going away’.  From the buzz at New York Fashion Week, when fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg sported a red pair and sent her models down the runway with multi-colored ones in 2012, to the cancellation, many things happened.  Much can be learned by innovators.  Many lessons are found in today’s New York Times piece by Nick Bilton, who broke the original story about Google glass. (“How Google Glass went from the hottest thing in wearables to Tech’s Edsel”.  Friday Feb. 6)

  1. It was not a failure. Perhaps there is no such thing as failure, in innovation.  Why?  Google learned a great deal.  It learned, again, about the super-sensitive issue of privacy.  Only a handful of people are concerned about it, but they are vocal and active,  enough to sink a project.  Some companies banned the wearing of Google glasses in their premises, for privacy reasons.  Who wants everything you do, see and say broadcast to the world?
  2. Skunk works: Lockheed ran a secretive Skunk Works operation in California, where its crazy inventors developed things that changed the world. Google had its own skunk works inside Google, Google X, even though you cannot imagine a more creative, open culture than Google’s Mountainview, CA., campus.  Somehow you have to protect the ‘crazies’ and give them space and freedom. 
  3. Interdisciplinary teams; Google Glass was developed by a weird team, with rock-star scientists and designers. Sergei Brin, Google co-founder, even joined the team.  Having the company founder in the team helps a lot – gives it credibility. 
  4. Freedom: The Google X team did not have a predefined pre-ordained project.  They themselves invented Google Glass. 
  5. Marketing: Google got to market quickly, but, through Glass Explorers, a select group of geeks and journalists who paid $1,500 for the privilege of being an early adopter. I think this was a good idea, in general.  It applies Guy Kawasaki’s principle, “ship, then test”…get to market FAST.  But “the strategy backfired”, according to Nick Bilton (who broke the first story about Google glass).   The product just wasn’t even CLOSE to ready for ‘prime time’.  Reviewers described it as the “worst product of all time”, noted its abysmal battery life. 
  6. What’s love got to do with it? Yup —  there was Cupid, involved, and he wasn’t wearing Google glasses.  Sergei Brin became romantically involved with the Google glass marketing manager, even though he was married, and the person he courted was one of his wife’s friends.  Vanity Fair reported the affair.  Ouch.  
  7. Radical ideas are reborn, like the Phoenix. A former Apple product executive is working on a new and improved version of Google glass.   Someday, someone, maybe not even Google, will get it right.  Apple’s culture is far better at this than Google’s.