Experimentation is intentional
Recently I came across an experimentation evangelist job post that reads: “… our experimentation culture …” I quickly noticed that the word order is not optimal. Much better like this: “… our culture of experimentation … “. Since experimentation is intentional, culture comes first because it is the hardest and most important element.
But how do you change culture?
Culture is the adaptation of humans to live effectively in a particular environment. In a sense it is a system of collectively held values. It helps to distinguish the members of one human group from those of another. If we consider work as part of life because it is enjoyable, then we can strive for a single model to change the culture.
It doesn’t matter if you are a one man team product founder, or a chief product officer at a global company. My advice is simple. It is best to learn from your own life experiences before inviting others along. Maybe it is not the answer you were expecting. Other inspirational starting points could be a book, a podcast or a conference. Experimentation is intentional because you observe the world around you to formulate your own ideas. You are the driver of the experience versus a consumer.
If you focus first on yourself you have the chance to understand your biases, behaviors, motivations and fears. Experimentation is very easy to start but very hard to continue (if you are not set for success). It requires sustained commitment and patience. As the story goes, Thomas Edison tried 10,000 different combinations for two years before finally making a breakthrough in the form of a carbonized bamboo filament. The accumulation of small and not-so-small changes collectively generated huge benefits.
Every day we are flooded with information. There are up to twenty cognitive biases to be aware of. Biases are a flaw in our reasoning that leads to misinterpretation of information and inaccurate conclusions. The brain develops ranking systems to decide which information deserves our attention and which information is important enough to store in memory. It also creates shortcuts meant to reduce the time to process information. Ranking and shortcuts are not always perfectly objective because they are affected by our life experiences. Biases are not our friends during experimentation because we rely on data and sometimes intuition to make decisions.
Two important behaviors when experimenting are listening and collaboration. Unfortunately, sometimes we care more about our ideas to increase social ranking and feed our ego. How many times did someone have an “idea” and did not share it in situ with a group? Instead, we need to listen more and feel less precious about our ideas. After all, it is just an idea. We also have to master the art of collaboration which requires communication, inspiration, generosity, and courage. Rather than bossing around, we want everyone to be a leader.
Motivation can be internal or external. Internal motivators will always be more reliable and more instrumental for success. If your energy comes from within then your success is less dependent on the actions of others and more on your abilities. Being motivated by an external force (like your colleagues or friends) tends to influence you to rely less on your own mental strength and more on the positive feedback loop created by the praise or encouragement of others. Since experimentation is intentional it has to start from the inside to be embraced now and forever.
Finally, to make experimentation a way of life we have to overcome two fears. Are you afraid of being proved wrong? Are you willing to accept that anyone in your company can run an experiment? If the answer is no, you have some work to do.
Are you ready to rise and experiment?