Fail Efficiently

“The way to get a great idea is to have many ideas. By definition, most of your ideas will fail. You want to be able to generate ideas very fast, very cheaply and fail very often but at very low cost. Magic Labs is optimized for the efficiency of failure. Among the many ideas, there will be great ideas that bubble up and then we will invest R&D efforts to cultivate the great ideas.”

The quote is from John Wang, chief marketing officer at HTC, the company behind the first cellular handset to be powered by Google Android operating system. Find more of the interview here.

What’s the point? I wonder how many newspapers have an R&D mindset? Retrenchment seems all the rage at newspapers these days. It’s always worked in the past — right? However, some might argue it is simply trying to hold onto a past that has already passed. If now is not the time for radical reinvention then such innovation will be done on the ashes of newspapers.

Speaking of the ashes of newspapers, here is a thought from one of the leading innovators in newspapers: Dean Singleton. According to Singleton, most of newspapers problems are related to the recent economic downturn. Here is what he told Paidcontent.org.

“The biggest thing we need right now is an improved economy, because at least 60 percent of the revenue problem we’re facing today is good-old fashioned economic recession.”

Alan Mutter, of Newsosaur, sees things differently.

Newspaper ad sales didn’t just go the wrong way in 2007. They have been declining steadily since 2001, when the economy suffered the twin shocks of 9/11 and the tech collapse. Even after the economy rebounded in 2003, newspaper sales consistently trailed the growth of the gross domestic product, as detailed here. Newspaper sales actually began falling in the second quarter of 2006 – even though the expansion continued for more than a year – and the rate of decline has accelerated ever since.

However, Singleton doesn’t stop there. He rightly adds: “If we lose $1 dollar in print, we don’t need $1 dollar to come back online. We need 30 cents. Maybe even 20 cents, because of the marginal profit that online produces.”

If that’s true and the money can be found online to enable newspaper survival, should those dollars go to profit margins that serve investors or should they be devoted to innovation and quality content production? Which will better serve the business in the long term?

I bet I know where Mr. Singleton stands on that question.

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