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.
- Observe something and ask questions about a natural phenomenon (scientific observation)
- Make your hypothesis
- Make predictions about logical consequences of the hypothesis
- Test your predictions by controlled experiment, a natural experiment, an observational study or a field experiment
- 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!
Life is an experiment. Well, at least the lives worth living are!