The other day I was in a seminar hosted by the wonderful Kerstin of Prinzessin Häberle, she teaches advertising to women entrepreneurs, and the topic was markers of a successful entrepreneur. My suggestion was a willingness to experiment. This was promptly met with resistance. It is more important, I was told, to act strategically and stick to what works.
This shows to me a fundamental misunderstanding about what experimenting in a scientific context actually means. Let me clarify this, because I talk about experimenting a lot and I would like us to be on the same page.
• a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact: laboratory experiments on guinea pigs | I have tested this by experiment.
• a course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the eventual outcome: the previous experiment in liberal democracy had ended in disaster.
verb |ikˈsperəˌment| [ no obj. ]
• perform a scientific procedure, esp. in a laboratory, to determine something: she experimented on chickens as well as mice.
• try out new concepts or ways of doing things: the designers experimented with new ideas in lighting.
So that’s the official definition of my Mac-dictionary. Important is that an experiment tests something and has an outcome that is quantifiable, or at least qualifiable. This something you test is a hypothesis. Say in a marketing context “If I post on facebook x times a week I will increase my sales by y%” or in a more personal context “If I paint my lips red each day, my behaviour will be more guarded.” Then of course you have to track what you do and what happens. This gives you numbers and data and lets you make more knowledgeable decisions in the future.
Try to think of experimenting not as “randomly trying shit”, but as conscious process of “forming a hypothesis and doing an experiment that gives measurable/observable results.” Of course, you don’t know the result of your experiment in advance, but you’ve observed events that lead you to assume this course “tentatively” as a good option. Another example; I knew tea influences my sleep, but I didn’t know how, so I tracked it for a month and found that it is not the amount of tea, but the time of day that I switch to something without caffeine that makes a difference.
The time to start experimenting isn’t when things are going horribly wrong already, but before when you’re cruising along just fine. There is your space to get curious and say ” I wonder what happens if…” I feel strongly that cultivating an attitude of experiment and curiosity can do wonders, both for your personal life and for your business space. And if you make testing a habit, you have real data to back up your actions and counter monster beliefs.