The experiment never fails

“Even though we rationally know that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, we still keep on focusing more on error and failure prevention, than actually on learnings through mistakes.”

Recently, during a Tribe event I organize once in a while for Change-makers inside my network, we went a step further – or deeper, so you like – on this topic together with our guest speaker, Johan Dhaeseleer.

Starting point here was: “An experiment never fails. It is only testing the hypothesis”.

So instead of talking about Try & Fail, why not start speaking about “Experimenting” as it has the connotation AND the permission to test what you want to change, install or create?

If, in the end, it turns out differently, we can only see this as feedback, as a learning. Never as failure, because we were ‘only’ experimenting.

In other words, the experiment creates a safe environment where you can try and do something without being hurt, without having failed.

Johan’s definition of an experiment goes as follows:

1. I’ve never done this before. (It’s not my normal)

2. I have an assumption of what will happen (An untested hypothesis)

3. It feels a bit scary

4. It has a potential for improvement

5. It’s limited in time

6. I will get better at something I value or I will learn something also about myself.

And as every organization needs to innovate in order to survive – that’s a fact - the simple truth is that every business model will eventually fail, because conditions change over time. When talking about change and innovation, we simply can’t bypass the phase of testing. Of trying out. Of experimenting.

But, as told in the previous blog about nearlings, in many cases we tend to avoid investing in the unknown and the risk of unexpected results, preferring to follow familiar and proven paths.

However, when we meet the following two conditions, we create more room for the highly needed experimental phase:

Building a culture of experimenting

Companies need to make experimentation an integral part of everyday life. This takes more than just getting the right tools. It requires a complete change of culture. Inside companies, the single most important factor that determines how people behave is the organizational environment. What happens when an experiment fails? Do people try to understand the cause and see what they can learn for next time? Or do they focus on figuring out whose fault it is?

How to boost this culture where there’s room for experimenting and failure? Some examples:

  • When reporting about a business process during a meeting also mention the failures. Let the entire group search for solutions (group-therapy)
  • Celebrate failed attempts openly by creating special occasions (Fuck-up Nights): People get confident in sharing their own failures
  • Leaders/managers sharing their own failures set the tone!

 Creating an experimental attitude and behaviour

As companies try to scale up going into a testing phase, they often find that the obstacles are not tools and technology but shared behaviours, beliefs, and values. Experimenting can help you to understand what works and what does not work. An approach of deliberate trial and error can be very effective to speed up the ‘build - measure - learn cycle’.

How to boost this attitude where failure can be seen as a positive element? Some examples:

  • In education environments: give no points for the first tests, only feedback
  • Experiment small to the benefit of the larger audience
  • Use ‘Thinking out loud protocols’

May we conclude that experimenting brings us always closer to success without having the feeling of constantly failing in our search for this success?

And that if you don’t fail…you’re not even trying?

Need more input or persuasion?

👉 Here are ten world famous innovation failures meant to inspire you.

👉 Why I hire people who fail – creating a business environment of experimenting

👉 Only in Dutch: Briljante Mislukkingen: Het omarmen van de mislukking als belangrijk leermoment

👉 All about Nearlings

👉 Interested in joining The Tribe? If you are a professional involved in change projects, then you’re very welcome. Just connect with me via an email or connect on Linkedin