Optimizing Failure

  • December 11, 2014
  • Scott

Neil Cybart’s article on Amazon’s and Apple’s views of Failure is interesting.  In it, he posits that Apple prefers to fail in private, and Amazon prefers to fail with public feedback loop.

Both men accept failure and I suspect nearly every human needs to accept failure in some capacity. What is interesting is where Bezos and Jony are willing to accept those failures. For Jony and Apple, the goal is to fail behind closed doors. For Amazon, failure out in the public marketplace is thought to have little consequence and is even encouraged. For Apple, failure is actually minimized by taking bigger risks. Amazon does the exact opposite, by not taking big risks, failure is more acceptable and manageable.

This subject has been well covered in previous years, at least with respect to Apple.  There’s often the perception that Apple avoids failure, when it actually is optimizing toward failing before a product goes to production.  Hardware production of custom designs is expensive, and best not to fail after producing millions of units.  Just ask Microsoft.

Of course, in software circles, failing in public with SaaS software works pretty well.  Easy to cycle, by comparison.

So how can Amazon have a successful “fail in public” strategy with hardware?  Because they use commodity manufacturing techniques, parts, and chips.  And because they never report volume numbers, they can both order fewer units than might be expected to test demand, and avoid some of the negative PR of a big launch and missed expectations.

While Apple has its fair share of hardware blemishes or minor flaws that are rectified in subsequent versions, the public has come to expect Apple’s best when it comes to hardware, as most of the company’s failures have been kept hidden in Jony’s labs, with the public seeing only the big hardware bets. Brand equity is built in consumers’ minds, while public perception and anticipation remain elevated. I suspect consumer tech hardware failures take a much bigger long-term toll on a company than Jeff Bezos would like the world to believe.

It will be interesting to see if Neil is right, that public consumer tech hardware failures will carry a bigger price tag than suspected.



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