Experimenting has led to some of the biggest breakthroughs in history.
Sometimes experiments begin with a hypothesis. Someone has an idea and they work and work to figure it out. They test to see if what they believe is true.
Other times, people experiment with different ways of doing things for really no reason at all and they stumble on a something better.
There are lots of situations where experimenting can improve life and business. In fact, you could argue that change is not only necessary in life and business, but inevitable. And those that embrace change and experimentation are the ones setup for success.
Are you looking to build more experimentation in your company?
Here are some ways to do just that.
1. Try To Beat Existing Processes
We’ll have another point on competition, but this one is kind of a challenge or competition against the way things exist right now.
Let’s say an employee or group of employees does one thing the same way every day or every week or every month or whatever. Those processes are a good part of business. They make business possible.
But it’s also easy to get into the habit of doing something because it’s always been done this way.
You can embrace the way things have always been while encouraging a little experimentation. Have one day a month where employees have a little extra time to experiment with a way to beat an existing process by doing it better or faster.
These can be little experiments.
It’s popular in the online world. Let’s take an etailer that sends emails. They could take 10% of their list and do something completely crazy and test it against the norm. Odds are it probably won’t work, but if you do that once a month you’ll probably eventually run into a better way.
2. Test Lots Of New Products & Services
There’s a saying in some business circles that it’s good to test lots of new products and services…on a small scale. That’s something Jim Collins found in his Good To Great series of books and analysis. The businesses that were successful were the ones that didn’t bet the farm on the first idea they had. But they were always doing little tests and once something looked really good they went all in.
I used to work for a footwear company and in the first half of the 20th century they were primarily in the door-to-door business. It was that way for many years. Then catalogs seemed to start getting popular in the middle of the century and eventually they experimented with that (and probably with other things) and became a cataloguer.
It’s important to test lots of little things. New ideas. New products. New services. You don’t have to rollout entirely. Test it with one store. Test it with one client. See how it goes.
3. Hire Outsiders
Normally you want to hire and build from within.
But on a small scale it can make sense to bring in outsiders to shake things up a bit.
Outsiders can bring new perspectives to the company. They can bring new ideas and new processes. They can inspire others in the company to try new things.
Tread carefully on this one. Make sure the outsider understands your core values, but embrace someone that brings something new to the table if only for the sake of experimentation.
4. Encourage Personal Discussion
One of the cool things I noticed at the company I worked for was that personal discussion was encourage. Employees were encouraged to discuss their personal lives. It’s a way for people to get to know each other.
And when there is a friendly dialog amongst employees it opens the possibility for experimentation and learning new things.
Some companies may want to keep work at work and personal life at home, but you can’t really separate the two. Or you really can’t do it in the long run. It’s much better to embrace the entire person when you hire someone and encourage them to speak freely with others.
The exchanging of ideas can be powerful for a business.
5. Encourage New Hobbies
Some businesses are really good at encouraging new hobbies with their employees. For example, a boss may hear that a few employees are getting into Kubb so they tell the employees to setup a Kubb tournament for the next employee outing.
Curiosity is good for life and for business. By fostering a culture where experimenting with new things you’ll also be encouraging your employees to try new things in other areas including their daily tasks.
6. Try The Opposite
You’ve been doing something one way for a long time. You could try it a slightly different way like we talked about earlier or you could do it completely the opposite.
I guess I could try that with a blog post. Instead of starting with the title and introduction and moving toward the conclusion I could start with a conclusion, work backwards to the intro and then finish with a title.
That actually sounds kind of interesting…
7. Limit, Eliminate
Sometimes the best results come from the team that is most limited. Extreme challenges can really put people on an edge that can lead to extreme creativity and discovery.
Johnny Miller, I think, talks about how his dad would often offer unique challenges to young Johnny on the golf course. When Johnny would hit a shot into the bunker, for example, his dad would step on the ball to make the shot even more difficult.
Or when Johnny would hit it just off the fairway his dad would kick the ball up against a tree. Then he would ask Johnny what club he wanted to use and after hearing the answer his dad would tell him he could use any club except that one.
Johnny went on to be one of the best golfers of all time. He credits his dad for challenging him in unique ways. Anybody can figure out a solution with all the right tools.
But the best are able to do incredible things as a result of unique challenges.
A challenge for me might be writing a blog post without access to Google. ::shudder::
8. Introduce Stress
Stress is obviously not good all the time. We want to eliminate stress for the most part.
But we also know that a little stress now and then is a good thing.
You could surprise your team by introducing a little stress. Tell them this week that they have two weeks to complete a project. Then go in on Monday and tell them they need it done by Friday.
They’ll freak out. Their expectations would have already been set and now they’re stressed.
But sometimes the best work comes from stressful situations.
It’s not something that’s sustainable long-term, but if your company could use a little more innovation and experimentation then try adding regular periods of stress once in awhile.
9. Foster Competition
Competition is good in many situations. You don’t want employees at each other’s throats, but competition done the right way can lead to some great breakthroughs.
For example, let’s say you have a project that you’re working on to increase sales. Instead, create two teams and give them the sales goal and let them compete.
One team working might find a good solution. But two teams competing will probably find an even better solution. Or you might find two usable solutions.
10. Promote Ownership/Entrepreneurship
In the early days of Walmart things were a little chaotic. The stores all had the same name and they operated similarly in many ways, but one of the unique things was that Sam Walton gave each store manager a lot of control and freedom.
Store managers were encouraged to try new things. They could bring in all kinds of products. They could try all kinds of promotions and things like that. The only limit was not hurting anybody and achieving the sales and profit goals.
This gave store owners ownership of their stores in a true sense and they were willing to do whatever it took to succeed. And the cool thing was that when one store found something successful, Walmart could take that to other stores.
You can do the same in your business. Give your employees ownership of their tasks. Give them goals, but let them figure out how to make it happen.
Experimentation is good in life. Right now for some reason I’m thinking of The Beatles and their famous experimentation in the ’60s. They experimented with musical techniques. They experimented with drugs and lifestyles and other areas of life. They were just trying all kinds of things and it led to some of the most influential art of all time.
One caveat with experimentation is that you have to prepare for failure. Or you need the resilience to move past failure while remaining optimistic. Experimentation does not have an end. That can drive some people crazy. But those that embrace it usually sustain success well into the future.