Sebastian Thrun: Failure Is Beautiful

Sebastian ThrunWhen Sebastian Thrun approached the podium at Cleveland Clinic’s Ideas for Tomorrow Wednesday, I was both intrigued and put-off by his saunter and his eye-wear. It’s not his fault – I generally approach fame with a certain sense of skepticism. But when one of his opening lines was: “I hope to show you how often I fail,” I was hooked.

It turns out Thrun and I have a common passion for entrepreneurism, for experimenting with new processes in order to change our industries significantly. But, thinking and creating without boundaries involves a great deal of risk taking.

Thrun gave us a chronology of his successes by highlighting his failures because he claims “there is no learning without failure.” Health-tech entrepreneurs often risk everything – investing countless time and money developing ideas that may never work. Or they’ll get their gadget to work on Wednesday – only to find that someone else brought it to market late Tuesday night. These challenges are part of the process of innovation, which Thurn describes as a process of testing and failing.

Process of Innovation according to Sebastian Thrun

Each failure brings us a little closer to our goal – even reshapes the end goal, transforming it into something we wouldn’t have dreamed possible at the outset. If you told me 20 years ago that by 2012, approximately 76% of people would consult the Internet, Dr. Google, before calling their physician I never would’ve believed you.  But then computers became smaller and smaller, information more and more easily accessible, and it’s changed not only the way we ask questions but the very questions themselves.

Someday, someone is going to make health as addictive as video games – and make it lasting – and I want to be there to see it happen. Industries are changed by people who are fearless. Failure teaches us an important lesson: hard work is no substitute for vision. You have to have vision when the experiment you’ve been working on, the app you’ve been developing for years, or the pitch you’ve been researching for months, goes wrong. Without vision, we’d all throw in the towel and learn to love a 9-5 job. “In all these failures,” says Thrun, “there is some beautiful insight that drives us forward.”

Let’s cling to the vision.

The Ingredients of Innovation by Sebastian Thrun

Photo of slide from Sebastian Thrun’s Cleveland Clinic Ideas for Tomorrow presentation