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Lessons from Silicon Valley’s Most Important Failure

July 11, 2024 Deciphr AI
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Five Lessons Every Podcaster Should Learn from General Magic

Even though General Magic was the furthest thing from being an audio or marketing company, its story parallels what podcasters face. And if you look deeper into the details, you’ll realise that the learning takeaways from its story make a LOT of sense for any podcaster’s journey.

While there are lots of lessons to take from General Magic’s story, we’ve listed our top five that every podcaster needs to know below: 

Lesson #1: Don't be afraid to innovate and invent—but make sure you tackle it in bite-sized pieces.

Starting a podcast, getting your ducks in a row, and then getting it to grow comes with a lot of trial and error. This is why staying open to innovating, inventing, and improvising is a must—the same thing that made General Magic’s alumni so successful.

When the company started in the 90s, it set its sights on doing something that was “impossible” then: 

Invent a device that helped people communicate in different ways—or what we know as the smartphone of today. 

It may not seem like much, but we’re talking about a time when phones were still connected to walls. And when General Magic decided it wanted to change this, its team made it a goal to build a device that had:

  • Emailing capabilities
  • Calling capabilities
  • A touch screen, and
  • Chat functionalities

With full dedication, the company decided to set no limits to invent something innovative.

But, there’s a caveat that comes with trying to push the pace: break your approach down—or it’s going to break you. 

Unfortunately, for General Magic, the plan to build an all-in-one communication device fell apart. The relatively-small team ended up doing too many things because each grand vision and goal made the project more ambitious…

Which meant that a lot of mismanagement was happening—leading to its eventual demise. 

So, if you want your efforts of innovating your podcast to pay off, you’ll need to tackle your large plans bit by bit. This makes it a lot easier to not only work productively towards a goal but effectively manage your resources as well.

Once you learn to break your approach into bite-sized pieces, you can avoid burning both ends of the candle!

Lesson #2: Never forget the most important person in the room: your audience.

Shortly after General Magic shut down for good, lots of its freshly-minted alumni started to wonder where it all went wrong. 

Many of them couldn’t come to terms with what happened because they knew their idea was going to work…

They had all the skills and talent to bring their “dream features” to life, and…

They had limitless funding and the necessary resources to put their project into the hands of people all over the world.

Unfortunately, none of these things clicked well together enough to give General Magic the success it should’ve had. And while most employees were clueless, Tony Fadell (the inventor of the iPod who was the company’s hardware and software engineer then) realized something: 

Everyone was designing and planning features according to their interests—but society didn’t need them yet. 

In short? 

General Magic forgot to put its users first before all else while designing and building its project. 

For podcasters, this little epiphany is something to be mindful of because it can be so easy to prioritize what they want when making content. If you want to make your show successful, then you’ll need to put your listeners first.

Why?

Because that’s what’s going to help your efforts yield all the results and returns that you want to see, one episode at a time. 

Lesson #3: Don't be disheartened by rejections.

Aside from the lessons that came from what General Magic did wrong, podcasters can also learn a lot from where it was right. And if there’s anything that the once-unstoppable Silicon Valley darling did well, it was handling rejections and making the most out of them.

Compared to most people who took harsh comments to heart, General Magic saw them as opportunities to improve…

Its CEO and co-founder, Marc Porat considered rejections and criticism as free consulting. And the reason for this is that he (and the rest of his team) saw something useful in tough words since they helped the company keep its ideas sharp! 

This post-rejection mindset allowed General Magic to inch even closer to its true potential—and it can also work wonders for any podcaster. 

Considering that you have a very public audience consuming your content, you’re bound to face rejections and criticism from anyone. But, if you change your perspective and focus more on the opportunities hiding in plain sight, then you’ll get a lot more out of your troubles. 

How? Well, here’s an example of how to not get disheartened by rejections—while using them to your advantage: 

If a critic says that you’re slow at putting out show notes (even though you worked hard on your content), don’t take it personally. 

Instead, take the comment with stride and see it as an opportunity to improve how you deliver content by using Deciphr.ai! 

With Deciphr.ai, you can get detailed show notes generated and prepped for you in less than 60 seconds. All you’ll need to do is upload your podcast transcript on our website and an AI program takes it all and churns out a well-put-together TL;DR! 

(If you want to try it, click here to check it out—it’s FREE!)

Lesson #4: Learn from the experts.

Another great habit that any podcaster can learn from General Magic’s time in operation is its team’s willingness to learn from others…

Especially from those who’ve been shown to have great track records and authority in their fields. 

While every person at General Magic had every reason to stick to their guns and just rely on their expertise, they did the complete opposite. At times, office days would look like conferences because of how everyone bounced input and advice back and forth.

Why?

Because every person at the company believed in not only looking for something they wanted to work on…

But also looked for amazing colleagues to learn from because the entire group had heaps of experience making all sorts of different products. 

Megan Smith—the first female CTO of the US and a former mechanical engineer at General Magic—summed the approach up best: 

There are extraordinary people with great accomplishments that you can learn from. Make sure you think about apprenticeship, journey, and mastery–that sort of path. There are master entrepreneurs that have built extraordinary things; and if you get to work with them, you get to practice in their ways.

For podcasters, living the lesson of “learn from the experts” is all about seeking opportunities from those who’ve set foot in the industry before them. And while you might have no idea how to do this at first, it’s quite simple since there are all kinds of ways to do it—such as: 

  • Attending industry mixers and striking up conversations with other podcasters
  • Reading and learning from the stories of personalities and podcasters in your niche, and
  • Joining mentorship opportunities that apply to you

Once you start being more aware of the experts you can learn from, you’ll never run out of learning opportunities to become a better podcaster! 

Lesson #5: Be a pessimistic optimist. Always have hope.

Okay, now we’re back to taking lessons from what the former Silicon Valley titan did wrong. 

As the dawn of a new millennium approached, General Magic worked tirelessly to bring all of its grand dreams and goals to life. Despite all the tools, resources, and great minds the team had, however, there was just one problem with its “no-limits” approach to innovation: 

It caused the company to focus on what it could do instead of what could happen. 

After going through the harder times at General Magic, Tony Fadell eventually realised that pessimistic optimism could have saved it them.

So, looking back at what happened, he had this to say about it all—and more importantly, why pessimistic optimism is so crucial: 

Right now we’re pushing hard on self-driving cars, on AI, on synthetic genomics. All of these things will happen. But they’ll take longer. There’ll be more questions. We’re going to go through the trough of disillusionment. But you need people pushing, blindly or informed, to keep progress going. To me, it’s just evolution at work. We’re evolving more rapidly than ever.
[This is why] I’m a pessimistic optimist or a cautious optimist. You always have to have hope.

To become pessimistic optimists, podcasters need to be aware of these things: 

  • Audience demand can change at any time;
  • There can be newer podcasters that serve their target markets better than they do, and;
  • There will be days where progress can slow—and days where it can pick up quick. 

Now, once you start being aware of these things, you’ll get to keep your expectations grounded and prepare for opportunities ahead of you. And with enough practice, a good habit of optimistic pessimism will make it easier to take your podcast to entirely new heights! 

Learn From General Magic, Drive Your Podcast to Success

If there’s anything that podcasters can learn from General Magic, it’s that striving for innovation and having the right mindset can go a long way. Regardless of how big your market is or how long you’ve been podcasting, you can always learn from well-documented failures and achieve the opposite of their fates! 

Also, if you want to innovate in the smallest, yet most impactful way and make your content production process easier, Deciphr.ai is here to help! 

In less than a minute, our nifty little robot tool can:

  • Process your transcript—no matter how long it is;
  • Pick key details in your episodes to create detailed show notes, and;
  • Generate timestamps that make it SO MUCH EASIER to create content for your marketing strategy. 

And the best part? It’s completely FREE.

So, if you want to give Deciphr a try, all you need to do is click this link and upload your first episode!