The Experimental Life

Remember when you were a kid? You were constantly getting hurt, always pushing your boundaries. How many of us have had our mother’s scream at us “don’t jump from there, you’re going to hurt yourself” and we jumping anyway. We’ve all ended up crying, bumped, bruised and broken from just not listening.

This is the essence of an experimental life.

Now I’m in no way saying we should blindly ignore the judgement of those wiser than us. When you’re a kid you have no frame of reference, you are willing to test the boundaries. Even if that means leaping from a tree, to a jungle gym, while wearing a cape shouting “I am Batman!”

As we get older our frame of reference narrows. We myopically pursue our goals without taking that leap, unless we are certain of the outcome. It’s the innovators that dare to do things differently.

“Be different so that people can see you clearly amongst the crowds.” – Mehmet Murat ildan

Being different and experimental is what led Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, to gluing his wife’s waffle iron shut, with rubber, in search of better traction in a running shoe.

In this Harvard Business Review Ideacast interview with, Phil Knight, former chair and CEO of Nike, talks about working with an experimental mind, like Bowerman’s and Nike’s culture of innovation. Nike’s Co-founder on, Innovation, Culture and Succession.  

“Yes, in about my senior year, he had begun to believe that shoes should be lighter than the shoes that were coming in from Adidas and Puma, the two main suppliers in running. And so he began to, you know, make some shoes in his home workshop and he didn’t want to try them out on his Olympic athletes, he tried them out on me and so it got me quite focused on the shoes.” Knight on Bowerman’s experiments.

The field most associated with experimentation is science, specifically the scientific process.

  1. Observe something and ask questions about a natural phenomenon (scientific observation)
  2. Make your hypothesis
  3. Make predictions about logical consequences of the hypothesis
  4. Test your predictions by controlled experiment, a natural experiment, an observational study or a field experiment
  5. Create your conclusion on the basis of data or information gathered in your experiment.

Obviously we’re not all involved in the field of science, but the value of experimentation extends to business too.

In this article, Experimentation Is The New Planning, Dave Grey discusses the two types of strategy, devised by management theorist Henry Mintzberg. Namely, deliberate and emergent strategies.

“Deliberate strategy is goal-oriented. It asks, “What do we want to achieve?” Emergent strategy is means-oriented. It asks, “What is possible, with the means we have at our disposal?”

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, believes making time for experimentation is a priority.

“You need to set up and organize so that you can do as many experiments per unit of time as possible.”

To validate experiments companies use recruitment. The idea being an idea will be seen as viable based on the amount of employees that become interested in an idea and want to contribute to it.

“To be recruited, a person must consider it more interesting or useful than the things they are already working on. Like the ants, recruitment turns to escalating commitment over time as more people are recruited to the project.”

We hear buzz words like “differentiate” and “disrupt” from entrepreneurs and thought leaders these days. Do you think they got there by staying the same and not stretching their limits?

When you adapt to your customer’s needs, you are experimenting.

When you are venturing into new markets or regions, you are experimenting.

When you try a new sport or hobby, you are experimenting!

Now the emergent / experimental strategy might work well for a large company like Amazon, but how does it work for the individual?

We are all born and given this meat vehicle carrying around a brain. It comes with no instruction manual. Yes we are taught by our parents, teachers and environment, to some extent, but the rest is up to us. We have to figure this thing out, we call life.

Why not make it the best life we can?

The best way to do that is to figure out what you love to do and do that!

The guy who made that his life’s work is Scott Dinsmore, through Live Your Legend. He perfectly summarised this in his TEDx talk How to find and do work you love.

Life is an experiment. Well, at least the lives worth living are!

About Author

Andrew Mack


  1. Harry Perfors on

    The main thing I took from this is the networking part. I always had the idea that you need to surround yourself with those “higher than you”, which is also a mindset thing that hinders us. But you dont. It has taken a while but I am finally gaining traction. I have two or three people in my corner, hoping to grow that. The energy that comes from it is unbelievable. It is invaluable the amount that other people can push you. I can generally push myself, but others seem to help me get the best out of me when we are on the same frequency.

  2. Mark Kirkland on

    Fantastic inspiring Videos today!
    Its really the truth – what I think about myself and what I say about myself and what I believe about myself are the source of my own trials and tribulations. Its also taking in the negativity of what others think about me or my ideas that further fuels that inner spiral downwards to a state of despondency and often desperation that most of us often find ourselves in, never mind the outside factors that we have no control over. Its so true that we must surround ourselves with those who are conquering this beast to “do the impossible” to “change our surroundings” by “becoming a self expert”.
    Oh yes, I am also reminded that whilst I am on this awesome journey and privilege of life that I must not be afraid to also hang around those who have the same struggles but haven’t started this path yet due their own beaten down inner man and lift them up so we can not only get ourselves out of the hole but also take other men with on the way up.

  3. Simphiwe J Zale on

    Thanks again BT you guys rock, as I am reading through this piece I see myself since mid 2016 when I started my current intern position. I have been experimenting on different ideas on how to become more, better and efficient. I have failed 80% of the time, what I have come to realize is that we must face the facts, check you results of your experiment and truly judge yourself based on the outcomes. No matter how negative this will make you feel you have to do it in order to understand why, who and what are the things you did wrong.

    Here are the few things I have done that led to the 80% failure – 1. I didn’t trust myself. I lacked true discipline. I was not realistic about the goals I set. I tried more than one experiment on my own. I didn’t seek mentor-ship. I got emotionally involved and led to instability, stress and resentment.

    The point I’m making is the 80% failure I experienced turned me into a betterman, because I started reading with intention, following the betterman group with intention and decided to learn and grow. I am proud to say I know I will make it in 2018 and that the APEX event is on my to do list before end 2017.

    Thank you Erik and the rest of the betterman community.


  4. Clement Baloi on

    Like most individuals out there I can say that i definitely know a thing or 2 about experimentation. I have many good and bad experiences , which I can attribute to trying new things out . These findings or outcomes, whether inline with or contradictory to my expectations, have lead to valuable realisations about myself and the World around me.

    If we don’t initiate trials in order to test the ideas, thoughts and beliefs we have then we wont develop. Our insights and knowledge would be limited , life , the greatest experience of them all, would be reduced to a dull existence. We would just assume that thing are or aren’t a particular way and leave it at that without trying to find proofs.

    Experimentation is the stuff that leads to discovery, progress and innovation. We find out what works for us & what doesn’t through trials and tests. It is an innate human characteristic to explore and want to know stuff and find out how things work.

    A major thing im taking in from the betterman experience is how mentorship, communication and networking are essential . It is important to subject our experiments to scrutiny and to share our finding with others in order to validate our results and device better methods for testing our hypotheses.

    Ever wondered how we know that certain things are edible and others not ? Well … Some guy had to experiment.

    • Andrew Mack

      This is pretty damn profound Clement “If we don’t initiate trials in order to test the ideas, thoughts and beliefs we have then we wont develop. Our insights and knowledge would be limited , life , the greatest experience of them all, would be reduced to a dull existence.”

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