Why don’t businesses experiment to drive innovation?

Why don't businesses experiment to drive innovation?

There is no innovation without experimentation…

A while back, Dan Ariely wrote a thoughtful column in the Harvard Business Review about why businesses don’t experiment:

“I think this irrational behavior stems from two sources. One is the nature of experiments themselves. As the people at the consumer goods firm pointed out, experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs. Second, there’s the false sense of security that heeding experts provides. When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking. Never mind that asking good questions and gathering evidence usually guides us to better answers.”

To this I’ll add a few more things:

  • Companies don’t want to waste their time. There needs to be a distinction between good and bad experiments. Although serendipity can be an engine for Happy Accidents, I’ve found businesses don’t want to just throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks; large organizations don’t have this mindset.
  • Companies are afraid to think for themselves. Put simply, if you have your own point of view about how things should be, you are intent on innovating. And since you know that the future needs to be created, you understand that you will go through an inevitable process of trial and error to do so. Most companies stop trying new things when they start growing.
  • Companies can’t look beyond the obvious. Simply put: common sense is easy to follow if that’s all you’ve ever known, that blinds you from considering alternatives.

A culture of innovation is a culture of experimentation. But the choice businesses must make isn’t between experiments and no experiments. It’s between useless experiments and useful ones. That’s the topic for another post!

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