Stray thought here, prompted by listening to Derek Thompson's recent fireside chat with Astro Teller.
The whole concept behind X is a rational one: let's put our emotion aside and try to learn as quickly as possible whether a given moonshot idea is workable. Then we cut bait on the unworkable ones.
I think there may be a flaw in this concept.
Talking to hard tech startup founders, it seems the experience is 180 degrees different. It goes more like this:
- We have this awesome idea, let's raise some money to go do it.
- OK, so far no show stoppers, let's keep going (raise more money, hire more employees).
- Holy shit, this is way harder than I expected. It hurts. My world is crumbling. But we've got to keep going. So much has been invested in this that we can't give up now.
- In some cases, success. In others, failure.
- For successful founders: looking back on it now, if we had known at step 1 how hard it was going to be, we never would have done it.
A lot of successful first deployments of new technology may rely on company founders (or others in an analogous role) being a little naïve in step 1 and having strong emotional drive in step 3. Maybe even buying into a sunk cost fallacy.
A sober accounting of all the challenges an idea is going to face in deployment will very often lead to people not trying it.
This makes me wonder if X is cutting bait on projects that an initially naïve yet sufficiently driven team could get to work. More generally, maybe there are so many barriers to success that we need to cultivate a bit of foolishness to get people to surmount them.