Is too much experimentation unproductive for innovation?

Is too much experimentation unproductive for innovation?

I must say, I’m highly experimental. So when I saw the tweet below, I was a little skeptical about the content.

But it is a valid question, how much experimentation is too much?

One of the hallmarks of Virgin, is that it deliberately looks to enter boring industries and infuse it with it’s brand energy. This is their strategy. And it works wonders for them. This simple example, is enough for me to tip over the discussion to take a broader view about experimentation, and strategy, in general.

Of course, Virgin is an outlier company. Not a traditional one where reacting to market changes is the norm, which is who the authors of the article are talking to. The point about experimentation is to figure out something you don’t know, whether it is something that takes a couple of hours, a few days and many months; experimentation pushes you to make some progress in your idea.

Put simply, when an industry is slow moving and boring, it is probably because no one is experimenting with new approaches to branding, customer service, customer experience, business model, product and service, etc. This sets the industry up for shaking by someone, like Virgin, who looks at the industry context from a completely different point of view.

Now, if you are waiting for the industry to change, then that is another story.

Another issue with experimentation is that you might spread yourself too thin. A valid opinion, there is a balance to be had, no doubt. How many experiments to conduct is quite specific to context and company, there isn’t a clear answer here either.

Anyway, I’m of the “find the revolution before it finds you” mindset. So, I believe you should be always be thinking about ways to can get better and different. It is more about mindset than process.

To finish, I don’t know that too much experimentation is unproductive for innovation, but for me it is very simple: There is no innovation without experimentation. Better to do some than none at all. Your long-term relevance depends on it.

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  • Kevin McFarthing

    Hi Jorge – I’m a big fan of the portfolio approach. So why not a portfolio of experiments, some incremental (testing whether to scale or not); some out on the edge, testing out new business models, for example. In this way you can decide the right number, whilst ensuring you never feel totally comfortable (err on the side of more).


    • Hi Kevin,

      Yes. Me too.

      That is a great way to approach experimentation. I’ve always used the “short-medium-long term” approach to experimentation.

      I don’t see this approach used as often.

      Thanks for the comment,