Without Experimentation There Is No Innovation

without experimentation there is no innovation

Established organizations want to better their operations, find a new way to go to market, increase customer loyalty or any other positive outcome that betters the business; with a predictable strategy.

But better and different outcomes are not achieved in a straight line; chaos is the norm.

What got you here won’t get you there

I recently met with a Director from a well known brand in Mexico to talk about “what’s next” with their business. We discussed some areas of opportunity, specifically how emerging technologies can help them achieve better and different outcomes in the different areas of their business. After a few more meetings we came up with a strategy and action plan.

Next, is pitching it to the rest of the C-Suite. The caveat: don’t say this is an experiment.

Why is there push-back against experimentation?

Experimentation has a bad reputation because it doesn’t imply certainty. Fighting the need for certainty is a common innovation challenge inside established organizations, the belief that “what got us here will get us there” impedes progress by mouthing the two most deadliest words in business: prove it.

Fellow entrepreneurs who I’ve known for some time are wrestling with the need for continued stability and certainty in their business, but in doing so they’ve stopped taking risks and experimenting. The truth is all businesses will reach a growth phase and begin protecting their core business, and any new idea that challenges the core will not be paid attention to and much less approved to move forward.

The business that recognize that “what got them here won’t get them there” understand that innovation results from exploration while also executing the day to day of the core business.

Experiments are the key to innovation

One of the biggest myth in business is that you need scale and resources to innovate; you don’t. You need cheap experiments and fast way to decide which ideas to move forward and which ones to discard.

Again, in larger corporations there is a reluctance to put new to the world products into the hands of consumers until the product has been fully optimized and tested, because of fear of failure. My preference, however, is to get prototypes in the hands of consumers / users as soon as possible, even mock-ups, so I can begin learning as soon as possible incorporating consumer feedback as early in the innovation process as possible.

The mantra for this approach is often called “fail fast and fail often”, because trying things and learning from the results is exactly what organizations must do if they want to achieve better and different outcomes for both their customers and their business. In other words: experiment.

The point is to be wrong as fast as possible so you’ll know what doesn’t work faster. Experiments are the key to innovation, there is no way around it.

Setbacks, not failure

Established organizations rely on, and reward, analysis to embrace ideas that have a clear and predictable outcomes for their business. But, you can’t analyze your way to the future, you must create it. You’ll never make progress if you don’t experiment, because better and different outcomes are achieved from making new mistakes and discovering new insights.

Just like evolution is the recombination and creation of new species, an organization that actively experiments with new ideas creates an evolutionary advantage. Experimenting doesn’t increase risk and inefficiency, it lowers failure rates and increases insight and learning; this means you have to accept that course correction will be the norm.

Every innovative organization in the world has their own approach to innovation, but they all approach experimentation in their own unique way with a focus on small bets that eventually become bigger bets. It’s just rarely hear about the course correction that happens. And you know what? Course correction is a part of evolution. There will be setbacks, it’s inevitable. You’ll find the right course the faster you learn from them and keep moving forward.

Bottom line: Without experimentation there is no innovation.

Also published on Medium.

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