By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
June 28, 2017

Good morning, Aaron in for a vacationing Adam today.

Failure is in vogue. Well, at least the recognition that since almost everyone is going to fail at something at some point in their lives, we ought to learn how to deal with failure. In Silicon Valley, the mantra is fail fast, the better to figure out what to do next and not fail. Entrepreneurs in New York City even held a panel recently called “Failing to Succeed.”

But in the real world, failure can have real consequences. The chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, Intel’s only real competitor for the CPUs that run personal computers, ran into a wall over the past decade as it got distracted trying to crack the mobile market. Dragged down by debt from the purchase of graphics chip maker ATI, the company lost billions of dollars and laid off hundreds of employees.

Still, like a beautiful mansion that’s fallen into disrepair, AMD had the foundation and the bones to be great again. The company recruited some top leadership talent, including current CEO Lisa Su, from across the chip industry and forged a new strategy. Su junked the company’s plans to make a bunch of also-ran chips and aimed higher. It took a few years, but now those plans are coming to fruition and it looks like Su’s revived chip line up will be a winner.

It wasn’t always a straight path to success, though, as I learned when I dug into the AMD turnaround story. The day the first of Su’s new chips arrived at AMD’s Austin headquarters for testing last year, it was DOA. A design flaw missed by computer simulations had made its way onto the tiny silicon chip. Su had bet the company on the new design, and there wasn’t a lot of time to spare. But taking up a NASA mantra from Apollo 13, Su told her team “failure was not an option,” and they overcame the problem in a few days. For a five-year chip design project, that’s certainly failing fast.

Aaron Pressman


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