How to experiment at work

By Jude Foulston

how to experiment at work

“Those who experiment the most, are able to innovate the best.” How many times have you heard that? And seriously - give me one company who hasn’t listed innovation as a key part of their corporate identity or culture for 2018.

The reality is that it’s just not that easy to ‘start experimenting’ or to ‘become more innovative’ -  as an individual or as a company.  Unless you’re actively and intentionally creating this culture of experimentation, innovation simply cannot happen.

Here are some simple suggestions to start creating a culture where experimentation is truly encouraged and made possible; in turn, leading to innovation not just being a word, but a real attribute that sets you apart from your competitors and which enables you to truly adapt to this constant thing called change.

  • If your employees aren’t comfortable with failure, you won’t be able to create a culture of experimentation. First and foremost – employees are never going to be comfortable with failure if their leader isn’t comfortable with it. This means having a leader who is willing to experiment, a leader who is comfortable with making mistakes, and of course, a leader who is confident to share the failures as much (if not more) as they are willing to share the successes.

    Having a leader who promotes this culture of experimentation from the top is vital in creating an environment where employees can begin to feel safe enough in order to start experimenting.
  • Failure needs to be celebrated – invite a Mr Sparkles into your organisation!

    I recently read how Joanna Lord, Former Marketing Executive and Tech Advisor for Porch, described how they celebrated failure in their company:

    Every time you break the site, whoever breaks the site the worst gets Mr Sparkles for a week. You put him on your desk and it’s like this badge of honor that you like did something so bold that you literally messed up the site badly.

    And you know what I love? You see my CEO walk around the room and he’s high-fiving the Mr. Sparkles owner. And people are like, “What did you do? What did you do to get Mr. Sparkles?

    But the reality is we’ve made it a positive thing. We’ve made it a badge of honor. You are living out the Porch-y way in being bold. What can you do in your culture to make it fun and acceptable? And almost, you know, become famous for it.”

Once you’ve started to work at creating this culture that makes experimentation (and thus innovation) an option by creating a safer space where ‘failure’ is a positive thing, the next steps are to make sure that experimentation actually becomes something that happens daily and practiced without thinking…

  • Start small… because no doubt - it’s going to be scary to start with… and I'm pretty sure it’s going to take some convincing that failure is actually encouraged – for all parties in the organisation.

Here’s a few simple things you could start with to get you going….

  • Change roles for 45 minutes… Join your receptionist for your lunch break and actively take on their role for 45 minutes (whether you're the MD, someone on the call centre or a team leader). Invite the cleaner into an EXCO meeting… or dare I say if you’re the CEO then spend an hour finding out how the members of one of your teams like their tea and make it for them one morning. 
  • Make it compulsory for each member of your team to leave work an hour early one day this week.
  • Create an suggestion jar for whacky ideas on how you could improve sales for your company / improve work-life balance / increase customer experience etc.  and once the jar is full, well... pizza’s are on you for Friday lunch. Spend this lunch time as a team reading through the different suggestions. Take one suggestion and experiment with it…
  • Have a standing meeting, or meet at a different venue. Have someone else chair the meeting. Have a walking (or running) meeting and get some exercise in while you’re at it! Make your meetings 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes…
  • Make it easy for your team to be reading something different, something that they wouldn’t normally dream of reading. Stack is a great monthly subscription where a different independent magazine is delivered to you.
  • If you are a manager, stop answering questions. Instead, respond with, “What do you think?” And then wait. After an answer is given ask, “What else?” And then wait. Repeat five to seven more times.
  • If you send your weekly newsletter out on a Tuesday normally, try sending it out on a Friday instead. If you advertise on Billboards, try advertise on Facebook. If you only send electronic newsletters maybe try delivering a hand written note to your top 10 or 20% of clients.
  • Spend 20 minutes brainstorming with your team how you can experiment more!

Remember once you’ve started experimenting  to:

  • Give time frames to these experiments
  • Have a plan for the experiments (remember the hypothesis and report we all had to do on those experiments we did in the school science lab!)
  • NB: Create a platform / meeting where all members share what they have experimented with for the month, ways the experiment could move the team forward and what the results have been.
  • Keep going and never stop celebrating the failures!

(1) comment

Add Your Reply