Experiment Your Way to Success

Make it your motto day and night.
Experiment and it will lead you to the light."

That's Cole Porter's advice. He wrote the song, "Experiment" for the 1933 musical comedy Nymph Errant. If you want to cut your failure rate, get better results, and get them faster, you'll follow his advice.

Cut Your Failure Rate

Are you one of those leaders who try something new and think you failed if it doesn't come out exactly the way you intend? Stop that. Failure is not an outcome, it's a judgement. You won't fail if you consider your trials as experiments.

An experiment is something you do when you don't know how it will turn out. You always win if you learn.

Experiments Usually Beat Careful Planning

Here's a challenge for you. Put together a couple of teams of three or four people. Give each team two sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow. Challenge each team to build the highest structure they can that will support the weight of a marshmallow. They get 18 minutes.

I didn't make that up. The "marshmallow challenge" is the brainchild of a fellow named Peter Skillman. He and Tom Wujec have been doing different versions of this around the world for years. One key insight comes from comparing the results of MBA students and kindergarteners.

You might think that the MBA students would do better than the kindergartners. They're more educated and they're better at planning things out. You'd be wrong. MBA students rarely beat kindergarteners at the marshmallow challenge.

The kindergarteners jump right in and start trying things. Instead of planning, they start doing. Every "do" is an experiment. They keep the ones that work and get rid of the ones that don't. The result is that kindergarteners outperform the average in the marshmallow challenge. MBAs are one of the least effective groups.

Experiments Get Good Results Faster

The kindergarteners don’t plan or try to be the team leader. They don’t argue about whose idea is better. The kindergartners produce what adults call a prototype. A prototype is the result of an experiment. The kids learn what works and create another, refined prototype. Adults refer to this as an "iterative design process."

Experiments Are A Key to Success

If you're a leader, here's how you can put this to work. Start with an idea. Most ideas need a little bit of massaging before they're ready to try. So, get some team members together and figure out how you can test the idea quickly and easily.

Then try it.

You're conducting an experiment. That means you win if you learn. So, how did it come out?

If your experiments are anything like mine, the first trial of an idea will not get the results you expect. But you haven't failed, because you've learned. So refine the idea and try it again.

Sometimes a couple of trials will convince you that the idea won't get results worth working toward. Other times, you'll build a spaghetti stick skyscraper that supports a marshmallow. It might take you several refinements.

Bottom Line

If you want to cut your failure rate, improve your results, and get better results faster, you know what to do.

Make it your motto day and night.
Experiment and it will lead you to the light." 


Twitter feed is not available at the moment.