Experiment or Evaporate

Over the weekend I came across an article in which its author states that innovation is about making progress, not making experiments. This is somewhat true, and I think there’s a misunderstanding with his experimentation argument.

First of all, there is no innovation without experimentation.

Anyone who’s designed a physical product or service (0nline and offline) knows that prototyping (experiments) is key to find a way forward; progress. I must say that the word “experimentation” creates stress for traditionally run organizations because it’s seen as a waste of time and money with no return on investment.

For these companies, return on investment has to be framed as return on learning. And the faster it happens the better because you don’t want to spend years in an experimentation loop; projects that benefit from long term experimentation are breakthrough in nature.

Those who see experimentation as a waste of time are living with a false sense of hope that they’ll hit on something on the first try. They’re more focused on incremental improvements, which are valid, but that won’t make a dent in the far future.

Now, there is a challenge with experimentation: analysis paralysis.

Analysis paralysis happens when you’re more concerned with being right, avoiding mistakes, than making progress. This is the wrong way to approach experimentation because there will be mistakes if you’re truly committed to innovation; mistakes are an inevitable consequence of doing something new.

In my companies, Better and Netek, we’re constantly experimenting because that’s how we figure out what won’t work and what will; we’ll be guessing if we don’t experiment. Experimentation to us means rapid prototyping to test hypotheses, getting immediate feedback from users, and using that to inform our decision making.

We don’t experiment for the heck of it. Rather, we believe experimentation has to be managed, it just can’t go on forever; otherwise you’ll be running in a never ending hamster wheel.

This is the scientific method. We’ve been doing it since man discovered how to create fire; why should today be any different?


Bottom line: Innovation is about making progress through experimentation. Companies that thrive today and tomorrow are in a perpetual state of beta, they’re always experimenting; this is how they develop an evolutionary advantage.

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