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The successful experiment

13 Nov 2018
In this day and age, it is essential to experiment and innovate. However, expectations are often unrealistic. Many believe that innovations should result in overnight success and an increase in revenues. Unfortunately, this is the wrong mindset, as very few experiments directly lead to implementation and more profit. Yet they are necessary to learn and develop yourself. The alternative is to hope that everything will stay exactly the way it is, so you don't have to make any changes - which, of course, won't happen. So what is the right way to go about it, and what should you expect from the process?

Speed of technology: two examples

This summer, I was at the Hat Creek Ranch, where I learned two things: in the late 1800s, the mail coach was ever-more important, and in the early 1900s, it disappeared altogether. In other words, a business that had been solid for three to four decades vanished quickly, and in ten years’ time, everyone was driving cars.

A more contemporary example is the cell phone, which was introduced roughly twenty years ago. Back then, no one could have imagined the scope of its impact. Now, it is considered normal that we spend many hours a day staring at our screens. Yet in fifteen years, those very screens might no longer exist, and our means of communication will likely be completely different.

Learning by doing: the only way

Since technological changes occur at such a rapid pace, it's crucial to stay up to date. The problem is, organizations often don't know how to incorporate new developments into their current way of working. They hear terms such as 'AI' (Artificial Intelligence) and 'IoT' (Internet of Things), and they're not sure what benefits these carry. Here's the trick: you can only find out by continuing to experiment. When a new technology doesn't seem to work for you, the conclusion shouldn't be to toss it out the window - it should be that you've gained important knowledge based on which you'll perform new experiments. And during the experiment, you might have identified another – perhaps less innovative – improvement which is worthwhile in itself.

It is paramount to realize that many technologies only reach the tipping point after a while - when they're fully developed or when they're combined with other new technologies. When this happens, they often gain momentum quickly, and before long, they replace old ways of working across entire industries. If, by then, you have already discovered what does and doesn't work for you through experiments, you can instantly start working with this now-established technology that other companies are still struggling to implement and benefit from.

Approach, expectations, and additional benefits

In short, nothing stays the same. Therefore, you will constantly have to explore new technologies and methodologies. When it comes to experiments, try to approach them with an open mind, assuming that only a small part will result in instant success. First and foremost, they should make you acquainted with issues and challenges posed by the technology in question, so you can effectively eliminate these. Keep your experiments small. You don't know where they will lead, so it is wise to make an investment that's limited and still also allows you to learn valuable lessons.

This way, you'll create an open company culture that is ready for innovation and able to absorb it. Along the way, you might discover some valuable additional benefits, too. After all, experiments require you to have a close look at your own way of working. This often leads to new insights, which you can use immediately to improve your own processes and methods!

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