October 17, 2019 100

The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure | Astro Teller

The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure | Astro Teller

In 1962 at Rice University, JFK told the country about a dream he had, a dream to put a person on the moon
by the end of the decade. The eponymous moonshot. No one knew if it was possible to do but he made sure a plan was put in place
to do it if it was possible. That’s how great dreams are. Great dreams aren’t just visions, they’re visions coupled to strategies
for making them real. I have the incredible good fortune
to work at a moonshot factory. At X — formerly called Google X — you’ll find an aerospace engineer
working alongside a fashion designer and former military ops commanders
brainstorming with laser experts. These inventors, engineers and makers
are dreaming up technologies that we hope can make the world
a wonderful place. We use the word “moonshots”
to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory”
to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real. Here’s our moonshot blueprint. Number one: we want to find
a huge problem in the world that affects many millions of people. Number two: we want to find or propose a radical
solution for solving that problem. And then number three: there has to be some reason to believe that the technology
for such a radical solution could actually be built. But I have a secret for you. The moonshot factory is a messy place. But rather than avoid the mess, pretend it’s not there, we’ve tried to make that our strength. We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong. That’s it, that’s the secret. Run at all the hardest
parts of the problem first. Get excited and cheer, “Hey! How are we going
to kill our project today?” We’ve got this interesting balance going where we allow our unchecked
optimism to fuel our visions. But then we also harness
enthusiastic skepticism to breathe life, breathe reality
into those visions. I want to show you a few of the projects that we’ve had to leave behind
on the cutting room floor, and also a few of the gems that at least so far,
have not only survived that process, but have been accelerated by it. Last year we killed a project
in automated vertical farming. This is some of the lettuce that we grew. One in nine people in the world
suffers from undernourishment. So this is a moonshot
that needs to happen. Vertical farming uses 10 times less water and a hundred times less land
than conventional farming. And because you can grow the food
close to where it’s consumed, you don’t have to
transport it large distances. We made progress in a lot of the areas like automated harvesting
and efficient lighting. But unfortunately, we couldn’t get staple crops
like grains and rice to grow this way. So we killed the project. Here’s another huge problem. We pay enormous costs in resources
and environmental damage to ship goods worldwide. Economic development
of landlocked countries is limited by lack
of shipping infrastructure. The radical solution? A lighter-than-air,
variable-buoyancy cargo ship. This has the potential to lower, at least overall, the cost, time and carbon
footprint of shipping without needing runways. We came up with this clever set
of technical breakthroughs that together might make it possible
for us to lower the cost enough that we could actually make these ships — inexpensively enough in volume. But however cheap they would
have been to make in volume it turned out that it was going to cost
close to 200 million dollars to design and build the first one. 200 million dollars
is just way too expensive. Because X is structured
with these tight feedback loops of making mistakes
and learning and new designs, we can’t spend 200 million dollars to get the first data point about whether we’re
on the right track or not. If there’s an Achilles’ heel
in one our projects, we want to know it now, up front,
not way down the road. So we killed this project, too. Discovering a major flaw in a project doesn’t always mean
that it ends the project. Sometimes it actually gets us
onto a more productive path. This is our fully self-driving
vehicle prototype, which we built without
a steering wheel or break pedal. But that wasn’t actually
our goal when we started. With 1.2 million people dying
on the roads globally every year, building a car that drives itself
was a natural moonshot to take. Three and a half years ago, when we had these Lexus,
retrofitted, self-driving cars in testing, they were doing so well,
we gave them out to other Googlers to find out what they thought
of the experience. And what we discovered was that our plan to have the cars
do almost all the driving and just hand over to the users
in case of emergency was a really bad plan. It wasn’t safe because the users didn’t do their job. They didn’t stay alert in case the car needed
to hand control back to them. This was a major crisis for the team. It sent them back to the drawing board. And they came up
with a beautiful, new perspective. Aim for a car where
you’re truly a passenger. You tell the car where you want to go, you push a button and it takes you
from point A to point B by itself. We’re really grateful that we had this insight
as early on in the project as we did. And it’s shaped everything
we’ve done since then. And now our cars have self-driven
more than 1.4 million miles, and they’re out everyday on the streets of Mountain View,
California and Austin, Texas. The cars team shifted their perspective. This is one of X’s mantras. Sometimes shifting your perspective
is more powerful than being smart. Take wind energy. It’s one of my favorite examples
of perspective shifting. There’s no way that we’re going to build a better standard wind turbine
than the experts in that industry. But we found a way
to get up higher into the sky, and so get access to faster,
more consistent winds, and so more energy without needing
hundreds of tons of steel to get there. Our Makani energy kite
rises up from its perch by spinning up those
propellers along its wing. And it pulls out a tether as it rises, pulling energy up through the tether. Once the tether’s all the way out, it goes into crosswind circles in the sky. And now those propellers that lifted it up
have become flying turbines. And that sends energy
back down the tether. We haven’t yet found
a way to kill this project. And the longer it survives that pressure,
the more excited we get that this could become
a cheaper and more deployable form of wind energy for the world. Probably the craziest sounding project
we have is Project Loon. We’re trying to make
balloon-powered Internet. A network of balloons in the stratosphere that beam an internet connection down
to rural and remote areas of the world. This could bring online
as many as four billion more people, who today have little
or no internet connection. But you can’t just take a cell tower, strap it to a balloon
and stick it in the sky. The winds are too strong,
it would be blown away. And the balloons are too high up
to tie it to the ground. Here comes the crazy moment. What if, instead, we let the balloons drift and we taught them how to sail the winds
to go where the needed to go? It turns out the stratosphere has winds that are going in quite different
speeds and directions in thin strata. So we hoped that using smart algorithms
and wind data from around the world, we could maneuver the balloons a bit, getting them to go up and down
just a tiny bit in the stratosphere to grab those winds going
in those different directions and speeds. The idea is to have enough balloons so as one balloon floats out of your area, there’s another balloon
ready to float into place, handing off the internet connection, just like your phone
hands off between cell towers as you drive down the freeway. We get how crazy that vision sounds — there’s the name of the project
to remind us of that. So since 2012, the Loon team has prioritized
the work that seems the most difficult and so the most likely
to kill their project. The first thing that they did was try to get a Wi-Fi connection
from a balloon in the stratosphere down to an antenna on the ground. It worked. And I promise you there were bets
that it wasn’t going to. So we kept going. Could we get the balloon
to talk directly to handsets, so that we didn’t need the antenna
as an intermediary receiver? Yeah. Could we get the balloon
bandwidth high enough so it was a real Internet connection? So that people could have
something more than just SMS? The early tests weren’t even
a megabit per second, but now we can do
up to 15 megabits per second. Enough to watch a TED Talk. Could we get the balloons
to talk to each other through the sky so that we could reach our signal
deeper into rural areas? Check. Could we get balloons the size of a house
to stay up for more than 100 days, while costing less than five percent of what traditional, long-life
balloons have cost to make? Yes. In the end. But I promise you, you name it,
we had to try it to get there. We made round, silvery balloons. We made giant pillow-shaped balloons. We made balloons the size of a blue whale. We busted a lot of balloons. (Laughter) Since one of the things that was
most likely to kill the Loon project was whether we could guide
the balloons through the sky, one of our most important experiments
was putting a balloon inside a balloon. So there are two compartments here,
one with air and then one with helium. The balloon pumps air in
to make itself heavier, or lets air out to make it lighter. And these weight changes
allow it to rise or fall, and that simple movement of the balloon
is its steering mechanism. It floats up or down, hoping to grab winds going in the speed
and direction that it wants. But is that good enough
for it to navigate through the world? Barely at first, but better all the time. This particular balloon,
our latest balloon, can navigate a two-mile
vertical stretch of sky and can sail itself to within 500 meters
of where it wants to go from 20,000 kilometers away. We have lots more to do in terms of fine-tuning
the system and reducing costs. But last year,
a balloon built inexpensively went around the world
19 times over 187 days. So we’re going to keep going. (Applause) Our balloons today are doing pretty much everything
a complete system needs to do. We’re in discussions
with telcos around the world, and we’re going to fly
over places like Indonesia for real service testing this year. This probably all sounds
too good to be true, and you’re right. Being audacious and working on big, risky things makes people inherently uncomfortable. You cannot yell at people
and force them to fail fast. People resist. They worry. “What will happen to me if I fail? Will people laugh at me? Will I be fired?” I started with our secret. I’m going to leave you
with how we actually make it happen. The only way to get people
to work on big, risky things — audacious ideas — and have them run at all
the hardest parts of the problem first, is if you make that the path
of least resistance for them. We work hard at X to make it safe to fail. Teams kill their ideas
as soon as the evidence is on the table because they’re rewarded for it. They get applause from their peers. Hugs and high fives
from their manager, me in particular. They get promoted for it. We have bonused every single person
on teams that ended their projects, from teams as small as two
to teams of more than 30. We believe in dreams
at the moonshot factory. But enthusiastic skepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner. It unlocks the potential in every idea. We can create the future
that’s in our dreams. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 Replies to “The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure | Astro Teller”

  • Tephr1te says:

    He's so proud of himself, its cringy.

  • K Wafer says:

    The video reminds me of Idiocracy, where the scientists work on cures for baldness while the world becomes rapidly more stupid.

  • Goorbatschov says:

    "Sucking at something is the first step to become sorta good at something." – Jake the Dog

  • David Baer says:

    Astro Teller is the best fake name I've ever heard, even if it's his real name.

  • notoriouswhitemoth says:

    Does it occur to anyone else that using wind as a power source contributes to climate change?

  • Mario Tomic says:

    Awesome talk, really enjoyed it!

  • zuilok says:

    Why would you make an "internet baloon" when we have sattelites?

  • Jay Enslin Fayza says:

    With a name like Astro Teller, I'm surprised he hasn't run for president.

  • Dantick09 says:

    The truth about development has been spoken

  • Dylan T says:

    Is that jason sudeikis' dad?

  • Nuno Balseiro says:

    thumbs up

  • Daniel Rowley says:

    TED has become a silo of pretentious windbags!

  • Aaron Uphold says:

    Those eyebrows tho.

  • hi am janusz says:

    is fascinating

  • Adrian says:

    That would also be the right attitude for programming. Writing rigorous unit tests with enthusiasm rather than the hope to find nothing so as to be done with it. His personality might not be everyone's cup of tea, but the message is good.

  • Siim Land says:

    Just the type of thinking we need!

  • Անթերի Համակարգիչ says:

    Thank You!

  • 216trixie says:

    "Sometimes shifting perspective is more powerful than being smart".

  • 12 legged Sasquatch.. says:

    "make the world a better place"..errr..open your eyes twit….because there's not much of a world left to make a better place. Idealist.

  • bestLetsplayer says:

    Better Title: Advertisement for Google X

  • Simple Miss says:

    Arabic sub plzz

  • Evilwhisper says:

    This is so cliche after watching Silicon Valley.All these "making the world better place" Moonshots don't work all the time.

  • MrPeterthepilot says:

    Hardly ever read the comments in a TED talk that isn't dominated by Trolls. Knew this would be a prime target. Interesting to see how people's (often limited) minds work!

  • banquo says:

    X kill pollution X

  • Rafael Rodrigues Piai says:

    Subtitles Portuguese PLEASE!

  • grrr 。 says:

    Where's the "Paranormal Ted Talk"? Did you guys ban it to be uploaded

  • Zimmerman Landscape says:

    All these experts are dreaming up technology that we hope will one day make trimming eyebrows possible…

  • Mihir Patel says:


  • Tinman Bigfoot Tracker Channel. says:

    Never a problem. Always a solution.

  • Towelie says:

    This guy looks like a school councilor.

  • TheAnnoyingGunner says:

    I always become sceptical when long-term solutions are based on helium…

  • oldcowbb says:

    the joy is real

  • aaaaaaaaooooooo says:

    With the Balloon cargo transport project, it seems to me that the perspective shift needed is: "All right, we can't do it because the first iteration takes too much money. So, to make this happen, what other uses are there for balloons so that we can first build up the experience/knowledge/production efficiency we need with balloons, but on a smaller-scale project?" I wonder if the Loon project was born from such a thought process. If it succeeds, it would double as an intermediate step to make the cargo transport balloon project become a more approachable project in the future. In a similar vein, I wonder if balloons could be used for the floating wind turbine to raise them into the air more efficiently.
    As for the vertical farming project, I am wondering why it had to be killed, if it was working for vegetables other than grain. Is there not a perspective shift of "What other uses are there for this tech other than producing grain that could make economic sense?" Do they stick to a system of one project=one goal? Do they just start up a different project if they find another spinoff goal?

  • Nitesh Sabne says:


  • Mefist0 says:


  • hootsmin says:

    The advantages of delivering internet through balloons must be rapidly disappearing with the rapidly declining cost of micro satellites and the diminishing costs of launching them into orbit. Do we really need internet access across the whole globe, does Mr Google really need to spy on everyone everywhere all the time?

  • 64adamw64 says:

    13:48 is that a dig at Elon Musk's nano management and intolerance for idiots by any chance?

  • boonping says:

    how is the balloon gonna survive a storm ?

  • DomEvah says:

    Great talk! – So awesome to hear people more successful than you…power of the internet – fucking love it!

  • Vinícius Chaves says:

    Fascinating talk, man. Thanks

  • weesh says:

    "enthusiastic skepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism"

  • DepthOfField says:

    Bring Deepak Chopra!

  • Rising Moon says:

    Great advertisement for X (Google X). You spent about 12 minutes talking about X accomplishments, maybe 2 minutes talking about Google X's work environment and less than a minute really delivering anything of value in regard to the power of embracing failure and how it leads to success.

  • Rising Moon says:

    13:11 that awkward moment when you are so full of yourself that you were convinced you deserved a big applause and then coerce that applause with arm movement. I appreciated how supportive and positive people are trying to be in the ratings and comments, but really this was not very inspiring. It came across as a self stroking of your own ego and a braggart of your accomplishments. Don't get me wrong, the accomplishments are awesome and the goals are awesome, but I didn't get what I came to the video to receive. I wasn't looking for a video on Google X accomplishments to humanity. I wanted to learn more about how the fear of failure plays a role in keeping us from achieving dreams.

  • Zahyra Valdez says:


  • Watching YouTube says:

    Just in time for finals…cheeky, very cheeky TED…

  • Brian R says:

    very innovative N creative. You inspire me.

  • The color Red says:

    Dr. Love

  • Alexander Maxhall says:

    This was great. Thanks for the share 🙂

  • QuickTalks says:

    Hold up there Astro… So what happens when the floating balloon runs into the floating wind turbine?

  • Venugopal Psychologist says:


  • Ruusa Uugwanga says:

    So Far the Best I Have Watched…Great Minds I Like Their Persistence

  • Kirill Khvenkin says:

    The real moonshot was to solve problems of Capitalism with Techno Optimism. But instead the beast swallowed the pill sneaked backed and roared with unprecedented vigor and menace.

  • Aakash Aich says:

    Does he look like an aged Jason Sudeikis to anyone?

  • DavidsonLoops says:

    I wonder if this man realises or accepts that the problem is not that these ideas aren't amazing and completely essential, it's that there is a lack of appreciation and enthusiasm to invest into the solutions that these concepts address. It's great that we can get wifi in the sahara desert now, but either you think that it's a trivial achievement, or you accept that in the event you are in the sahara desert, will you say "Bloody desert, why haven't they got WiFi here?" People will only appreciate a solution to address what they have come to expect and no more. It's a poor mentality that inhibits our progression. The world is not in lack of good ideas, that is not the limiting factor, it's the mentality.

  • Tudo está conectado says:

    I LOVE all of this!

  • zzasdfwas says:

    Now put the balloons on Venus

  • Jom Gelborn says:

    How come it took so long to kill Google Glass?

  • Asmit Das says:

    Doesn't he looks like Jason Sudeikis with beard?

  • Alexander Sandalis says:

    Sounds like a really amazing culture at X. They've turned the table on the idea of failure to be rewarded instead of admonished. Failure is their success and everyone has to invest in that idea to prosper at X. "Enthusiastic scepticism is NOT the enemy of boundless optimmism. It's optimises perfect partner. It unlocks the potential in every idea"

  • TheGerogero says:

    Astro Teller tells astronomy.

  • Ethan Hunter says:

    I wish I could like this more.

  • Jules Prince says:

    So.. his name is Astro Teller?

  • Majed Ahmed says:

    We human beings are what we have been for millions of years -colossally greedy, envious, aggressive, jealous, anxious and despairing, with occasional flashes of joy and affection. We are a strange mixture of hate, fear and gentleness; we are both violence and peace. There has been outward progress from the bullock cart to the jet plane but psychologically, the individual has not changed at all.
    so you all to human or future off humanity….
    look at he fact as was and still are …!

  • GELATO147 says:


  • Phil G says:

    Great Ted talk,even better eyebrows.

  • Leonidas GGG says:

    When you have money to throw around… You throw money around a lot. 😆

  • Gigi Simbajon says:

    Interesting concepts.. I love the term 'killing the project'…It implies that they generate too many ideas to concretize…but they seem to have no clear objectives… vertical farming could be useful for other localities.. you don't kill a project just because you won't profit from them… you can sell your concept and gain instead…if you have ideas that may not be beneficial for yourself, then give them away that others may benefit from them.

  • DeeP`-_PerspectivE says:

    I'm gonna make a Ted talk on how every one of these smart speakers has an autisitic sense of humor. Thinking things are funny when they aren't even remotely…

  • memoryhero says:

    Minor gripe. You're using the word Moon Shot all over the place, and in your own words, it describes the following: "Number one – we want to find a huge problem in the world…" In 1969, the lunar landing was doubtless an amazing achievement and a watershed moment for humanity, but the "problem" that this Moon Shot solved was nothing beyond the fact that we hadn't been to the Moon before, which, I gotta tell you, in the grand scheme of problems, is fairly low grade.

  • sereudipity says:

    Why do people who work for Google always talk in the exact same voice?

  • Virtual Universe says:

    I just came across this talk, and I got to say thanks for reminding people that failure is not the end of the project.
    There are sometimes ideas that will never generate profit or careers. For example: ' Building A Universe Competition! #BAUniC baunic.blogspot.com ' gathering talents from all transformative stages between idea and rendering a fractal universe in a computer. It may change the world and our understanding of physics, but no profit in sight for directly involved people and expertise.
    #BAUniC is attacked by feasibility disbelievers, early give-up-ers, ideological disbelievers, status-quo keepers and sometimes even profit driven entrepreneurs who mark it as a waste of time. Well, we aim to change the world, and that is more than enough. But you can help, or watch. As long as you don't actively try to stop us, we will fail and get up again and again till we succeed or prove impossibility. We have not found any problem we can't handle, yet. Yay!

  • Waffleman0517 says:

    Education is big for most of us and so is the cost of it. I have met many people who dream big but are held back because of limitations of time, networking, experience and money. Those limitations can be overcome and they are done so by the help of others around that person to support, encourage and donate into that person's life. My girlfriend Gift Nleko is one of those people. She has recently graduated college at Lamar University with a Bachelors in Psychology and wants to continue her education at Syracuse University’s Dual Master's Program in Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy beginning Fall 2016. Unfortunately, the funding for this is dauntingly high and a full ride through the McNair scholars program fell through because of lack of funds. Please follow the link and donate to her future passion to help families and others. Thank you

  • Al N says:

    So inspiring!

  • ₡∆££ ¥∆₥A says:

    it's nice how positive this all is, but how many companies have so much capital to play with… who is this talk geared toward? some people have more at stake to lose lol

  • Hrishikesh Waikar says:

    I hope A hurricane doesn't kill the Loon Project

  • crikxouba says:

    This is great, although it is also very unrealistic for most people and companies in the world. Most companies don't have the cash to sustain large amount of failures and foster projects that don't have (obvious) profitable outcomes. X is only possible thanks to Google's large amounts of spare cash. Still, amazing that Google spends money this way, most companies don't.

  • A M says:

    Where can i sign in this Moonshot factory??

  • ThoseTolerableNoobs says:

    "A lighter than air, variable buoyancy cargo ship" – So…a submarine? Did you just word it like that to seem intelligent

  • Priscilla Bonilla says:


  • Jurandir Pacheco says:

    His name can't be real.

  • TheDreamWeaver says:

    Tough crowd!

  • Jeff says:

    Astro Teller looks like Jason Sudeikis' hippy uncle

  • thomasapt says:

    baloon internet are faster then brazil internet..

  • t-bird shane says:

    yah, because we need to save every single person when our numbers are 7.8 billion people as it is,, humanity is forging its own slow death together .

  • RedStefan says:

    Moon shots sounds like shots of Moonshine

  • HOJUNG LEE says:


  • Lance Winslow says:

    Did you try modifying the soil bacteria to suit the staple crops like rice, wheat, corn? I hope you share ALL the data when you fail and close a project, give what you learned to the world, someone else will figure it out, or save time and not fail next time.

  • IM Ozair says:

    Sounds cool to me. I wish that all those efforts will our world to become a better place to live and die happily!

  • Algore Daemon says:

    "Enthusiastic Skepticism".

  • Ivan Dubois says:

    To much killing…

  • SPPEER S says:

    Fake it to make it

  • sowon kun says:

    A nice talk about the unexpected benefits of celebrating thanks to you

  • John Galew says:

    Any students preparing for Owlypia?


    I'm surprise by project loon,it's crazy and I like it!

  • Stan Yu says:

    i love this guy's accent

  • Jerome Alan says:


  • Esabelle says:

    I wish I could convince my dad that failure has benefits.

  • Anelxander Perez says:

    Brilliant way of presenting how to think big, I liked that. However, with the balloons I wonder if those areas where there was no internet really need it, if it would be better to leave then as areas with no EMF where people can go a disconnect. I'm genuinely curious if that's solving a problem in all places where it's been deployed.

  • Marten Dekker says:

    So, they "couldn't " do:
    1) vertical farming. ( Elon Musk's brother is doing it bigtime. )
    2) lighter than air ships….was done successfully years ago…blimps.
    3) self driving cars…Tesla is waaaaayyyyyy ahead of google in this. ( much better, waaayyy more advanced self driving computers, longer range, 1 million mile batteries, safest cars on the road in a crash … )
    ……conclusion : Google moon shot is the wrong approach. Looks like they've done nothing for the real world …..

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