Innovation through Experimentation is Key
“Going back to my son, he rode his bike for the first time last spring. He worked really hard to learn how to ride. Did he work out the theory of how to do it, jump on the bike, and start riding flawlessly? Did he follow my advice on what to do and what not to do? No. He started with training wheels and worked it out through trial and error, with determination, repetition while focusing on the end goal.
Experimenting is a critical innovation skill. None of us think twice about learning to ride a bike through trial and error, so why is it so rare in business?
There are two main reasons: One is risk and failure aversion. In a work or school setting, our brains are formatted to learn theory and what the outcome should be instead of experimenting through trial and error. People don’t like to make mistakes, and they don’t like to look foolish, whether it is an adult or a child. Trial-and-error can cause both of these things to happen when things don’t work out as expected.
The second reason is that our organizational cultures are often not designed to experimenting. In larger organizations, we are often trying to improve efficiency. Doing this means that we must reduce variation and risk. But innovation and experimentation increase variation. There is a tension between efficiency and innovation.
However, the benefits of experimenting outweigh these issues. The problem that experimenting solves is this: it’s nearly impossible to know in advance which ideas will work and which won’t. If we experiment, instead of guessing which ideas will work, we can test them. This helps us get better making decisions based on data.”