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Lead Your Team Strategy

Failure Is Key to Innovation, Facebook CIO Says

SAN FRANCISCO — Failure should be neither feared nor stigmatized, for it is a key driver of technology innovation, according to Facebook's chief information officer.

Facebook wants its employees to try new things and develop new technologies, company CIO Tim Campos told a crowd here at NASA's 2011 IT Summit Tuesday (Aug. 16). Failure is often the result of such ambitious efforts.

But there's no shame in that, Campos added, especially since falling short can teach valuable lessons that may come in handy down the road.

"The tried-and-true is by definition not innovative. It's what everyone else is already doing," Campos said. "So fail. Don't be afraid."

Hackathon culture

Facebook frequently stages "hackathons" to encourage this sort of freewheeling thinking in its employees, Campos said. During these all-night coding sessions, workers get together to develop ideas they've been dreaming up, however bold or bizarre.

Company management wants employees' imaginations to run wild, so it imposes few hackathon guidelines. [5 Facebook Marketing Tactics that Work]

"There's no specific business purpose," Campos said. "Because there's no expectation out of this, it allows people to be innovative. It allows them to try different ways of doing things."

The intention is similar to Google's concept of "20 percent time," Campos said. The search giant wants its developers and engineers to spend at least one-fifth of their time working on projects that aren't necessarily part of their job descriptions, hoping something revolutionary may emerge.

'Facebus' crashes

One project that came out of a hackathon, Campos said, is called "Facebus."

Facebook is currently in the process of moving its offices from Palo Alto, Calif., to Menlo Park, Calif. As a result, many employees are being shuttled regularly from one Silicon Valley enclave to the other.

Some of these workers grew tired of standing around and waiting for the shuttle buses, which they viewed as a waste of time that could be better spent coding or doing other productive things. So they came up with Facebus, a Web-based application that tells users where the buses are at any moment.

Facebus was a good idea, but it didn't work very well, Campos said. However, Facebus cannot be branded a total failure, he added. The work done on Facebus helped lay the foundation for other mobile-application projects, some of which show a lot of promise.

All of which reinforces Facebook's faith in the power of big thinking, and the necessity of failing part of the time. The company has a sign in its offices, after all, that says, "Move fast and break things."

"Failure is the critical ingredient to creating an innovative culture," Campos said. "We want you to try things in differentiated, new and innovative ways."

This story was provided by SPACE.com, sister site to BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.