Innovation Requires Experimentation

by Janet Sernack

I wish I had known about Clayton Christensen’s research on living overseas as one of the three ways of innovative experimentation before I relocated to the Middle East almost six years ago!

“In fact, the more countries someone lives in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes or businesses. Individuals who live in a foreign country for at least 3 months are 35% more likely to start and innovative venture or invent a product.

Moreover, if managers try at least one international assignment before becoming CEO, their companies deliver stronger financial results than companies run by CEO’s without such experience, roughly 7 % higher market performance on average.”

As I move closer to my next global relocation, this time, in August, to Melbourne, Australia, I appreciate how it has been a useful experience for generating new business ideas. How the diversity and depth of experience has boosted my creativity, increased my courage and ability to adapt, boosted my creativity in the innovative entrepreneurship space ultimately enabling me to live a more authentic and compassionate life.

It has been transformational experience through actively observing, exploring and experimenting within an environment of constant change, uncertainty, turbulence and complexity. Perhaps this is the ‘new status quo’ that is challenging twenty first century organizations to adapt to, innovate within, if they want to grow, flourish and thrive!

There is no innovation without experimentation

Whilst the average manager and leader may not fully appreciate the role of experimentation in innovation, it is widely accepted in innovation management circles, that there is no innovation without experimentation.

This is because experimentation unlocks, through understanding the role of cause and effect, trial and error and field trials, the capacity for innovation.

Yet many of us don’t know how to embrace the failures that experimentation involves as we cycle through these three roles. Also many of us myopically focus on analyzing and sequencing ideas and solutions rather than testing, learning and iterating and pivoting from failures.

The tendency towards delivering quick short term results doesn’t allow us the time required to generate the data on what might work in the future as we search for new creative and innovative solutions.

People’s fears of failure and risk adversity also inhibits them from experimenting, and few organization have courageous cultures or the capacity to support them to safely fail fast to learn quickly.

These are the two key factors that keep us stuck in the conventional thinking box and inhibit innovators from generating the passionate engagement as well as key data on how well ideas work in practice.

This prohibits innovators from shaping revolutionary business ideas, solutions and models, piece by piece as experimentation requires.

Power of divergent and associative thinking

The diversity of experience involved in creating ImagineNation™, as a generative and provocative innovation training company, in a radically different survival and scarcity based Middle Eastern culture, with a harsh guttural foreign language honed my divergent thinking skills.

It also honed my associative thinking abilities, developed from my years in the fashion and lifestyle industries enabled me to make surprising connections across innovation management, corporate learning and lean and agile start-up entrepreneurship methodologies.

This enabled me to experiment by developing three innovative corporate learning prototypes, which I could then test (and fail), iterate, pivot and validate. At the same time experiencing first hand, the cognitive, emotional and visceral roller coaster that start-up entrepreneurs go through when inventing and realizing something that may not have previously existed.

Boosting your potential for innovation

If you want to boost your potential for innovation through experimentation, Clayton Christensen suggests three useful ways;

  1. Try out new experiences through exploration such as living in a different country, working in multiple industries or developing a new skill.
  2. Take apart products, process and ideas.
  3. Test ideas through pilots and prototypes.

Experimenting to make brilliant blunders

As you courageously and compassionately experiment with these, notice how you experience your unique set of perfectionistic behaviours, your inherent risk adversity, or your own fears of failure and take heed of what Mario Livio, an astrophysicist, with the Hubble Program at the Science Institute, in his book ‘Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe’ says about making mistakes;

There are 2 types of mistakes people make;
– Sloppy or thoughtless mistakes.
– Thinking outside of the box, or challenging convention mistakes.

He suggests that these mistakes sometimes result in what he calls ‘blunders’ and that blunders have the potential to enable us to take calculated risks, where we might fail. Paradoxically they also provide us with opportunities to experiment to uncover great rewards!

He uses the term ‘brilliant blunders’ and suggests that they are the portals to great discoveries and disruptive innovations!

So make sure to have some fun, frustration and challenges exploring what it means to experiment in your business practice and enjoy making some brilliant blunders of your own!

image credit: jeanbaptisteparis

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  • How the Lean Start-up Accelerates Innovation Janet Sernack gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from 30 years experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s and Israel’s’ top 100 companies. She resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation™ that teaches innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game™.