Experimentation is the new purpose

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After over two years without writing I have a new direction. Experimentation.

Here’s how it happened.

Five years ago I started the Agile blog elastictribe.com. An important rule I have followed is to prioritise the build up of experiences and opinions over following a schedule. Inspiration for new content was often eased by asking the simple question “what’s next?”

Along the way, without noticing, I got stuck in a drought of ideas. I lacked the clarity to continue writing despite having no time pressures. After some failed attempts, I paused. Should I change direction?

To get unstuck, I received feedback, increased my self-awareness, and leveraged several thinking models. My practice of karate inspired me to create my ikigai which in Japanese translates to “reason for being.”

At some point, all this activity inspired me to stitch together how I had learned in my cross disciplinary experience in Astrophysics, virtual reality, interactive entertainment, cloud infrastructure, and continuous product discovery and delivery – by experimenting and collaborating.

I had found my new place of flow, creativity, energy and fulfillment in experimentation.

Experimentation is the most recognizable scientific research method. It has proven its value for centuries. Experimentation is the act of doing experiments. An experiment is a procedure designed to test a hypothesis as part of the scientific method.

When it comes to decision making, experimentation places a premium on analysis. Intuition is often discounted. Einstein’s greatest breakthroughs came from thought experiments. He imagined scenarios and then followed his intuition. Intuition comes from a phenomena neuroscientists call emotional tagging. For every experience, the brain stores our emotional responses to each situation. To make a decision, the brain searches past experiences that are comparable to the present one. Patterns among our stored emotional responses manifest as our “gut feeling” or intuition. So remain open to your intuition as well.

I believe that experimentation ensures that we keep in touch with reality as a business, a customer and in our lives.

Business is fundamentally about human interaction – people trying to connect to other people. In today’s fast changing, uncertain and emerging world one of the most valuable organisational capabilities is experimentation. As an example, American credit card company Capital One created a multi-billion business by executing hundreds of thousands of experiments optimizing credit card designs, offers and messaging. Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos has said in the past, “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”

Sadly the failure rate is high. Behaviors, beliefs, and values break the necessary people alignment. For example, people lack self-awareness, do not like to be proven wrong, it is not easy to challenge our own thinking and decisions are based on faith or personal opinion alone.

What if businesses can create an environment where curiosity is nurtured, the art of collaboration is mastered, anyone can run an experiment, and cross-functions are aligned? In a culture of experimentation, it is expected and accepted that for every experiment that succeeds, many more don’t. In contrast, organizations that emphasize efficiency, predictability, and “winning”, “failures” are wasteful.

As a customer, I long for experiences in which I feel more in control, feel that I have freedom to choose, feel more connected, feel not forgotten, feel that I am part of a community. I would like to be treated like a partner in a worthwhile transaction versus a buyer of a commodity. If I am an unhappy customer with a product or service I will seek new options. Sometimes we find the right fit and settle down. Maybe without realising it, we too have run experiments and made decisions based on facts and our intuition.

Finally, experimentation also manifests in my life. First, I have not used a watch for over fifteen years. Despite being tempted to buy one many times, I have a strong devotion to managing my energy rather than my time. Since no brand or design has convinced me otherwise, the experiment has graduated into a theory. Second, after many years, I am finally starting to enjoy cooking. A lot of past experiments did not deliver the right overlap across motivation, ability and trigger as per Fogg’s behavior model. Despite many starts and stops, what I learned along the way kept me going.

I wish you good luck getting unstuck. Could experimentation be your new purpose as well?

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How can we stay in touch with reality to allow for infinite possibilities? I aim to inspire, think differently and challenge traditional ideas. [read more]