In our quest to create value in new and different ways, our bias for action and excitement can lead us—if we’re not mindful—to be overconfident or undisciplined. For example, we jump into an endeavor and when it doesn’t work out, we call it “an experiment” even though it was not positioned as an experiment going in. Or, we call it an experiment up front, but do not operate it as an experiment.
Here are some common experimentation pitfalls or mistakes and tips for how to avoid them:
- Pitfall: Experimenting with large and complex topics
Recommendation: Try to isolate the most important variables to ensure you learn what’s needed for a path forward
- Pitfall: Being unclear about what you’re trying to learn via the experiment
Recommendation: Develop a hypothesis with clear learning objectives
- Pitfall: Testing with the intent of validating the outcome you desire
Recommendation: Your hypothesis can be falsified with your test/experiment
- Pitfall: The test conditions or test environment don’t reflect reality
Recommendation: Having testing conditions that are as realistic as possible
How can nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs avoid these common experimentation pitfalls?
The goal of experimentation is to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work.
If we are truly being bold and driving transformation, some of our experiments will fail. That is, our hypothesis will turn out to be wrong. But, a well-designed experiment that fails is NOT a business failure. It’s a vital element of our progress and long-term success. Providing guidance on what we mean by a well-designed experiment is not enough. We must also create the right environment.
For example, supervisors should:
- Expect every employee to continually look for improvements and innovations—and take the initiative to do something with those ideas
- Celebrate when employees experiment and learn from it, not punish employees when their well-designed experiments fail
- And reward employees when their experiments lead to realized value creation.
Questions for further reflection:
- When’s the last time you positively acknowledged individuals whose experiments didn’t lead to a project, implementation, or new idea innovation?
- How can you positively create an environment for experimentation for your team?
- What ideas do you have to increase the level of experimentation in your area?