LET GO. ALLOW FAILURE.
After decades of working in technology and digital media I’ve learned that technology alone doesn’t solve problems. The solutions come from building a culture of experimentation – where organizations celebrate failures and share them openly, where teams use technology and data-driven approaches to test and iterate ideas, and where individuals apply a growth mindset and seek learning and growth opportunities.
This kind of learning loop enables an organization to deliver on the promise of unlocking value from data and technology. It is a fundamental prerequisite to the creation of dynamic and connected consumer journeys that link back to strategic business outcomes. For any company, building a culture of experimentation leads to long-term improved performance and more transformation ready organizations.
ALLOW FOR FLEXIBILITY
One of the first steps in building towards a culture of experimentation is also the hardest step for leaders to take. Why? Because it necessitates letting go and giving up the illusion of control.
The end-user focus, what problem are we solving for, and being clear on our hypothesis is much more important than detailed plans. Long term transformational value is often the outcome of clear direction, empowerment and small incremental decisions and improvements. If you overplan you stifle innovation and creativity – both key ingredients to experimentation. There’s just so much that can’t be anticipated.
How do you embrace flexibility while driving towards your strategic business goals? Of course, you need a clear strategic goal, but you also need to allow for flexibility to reach your goals via multiple routes. Have your end destination in sight yet be open to detours, side roads and different methods to reach the goal. Ensure you and your team can adapt according to internal and external factors so you embrace ‘always on transformation’.
AN EXAMPLE FROM NATURE
Flexibility and engagement throughout organizations is key to experimentation and adapting to change. A great illustration of this comes from nature. Migratory birds have a very clear sense of their goals – migrating north and south as they travel across continents. They fly in formations that look beautiful and protect them from predators and each time they migrate they change their routes. They’re adept at being flexible and adapting to their environment.
Yet migrating birds don’t have an executive committee that makes a strategic flight plan, detailing every step along the way, “First, we’ll take off and go right. Then we’ll fly 10 miles and turn left….”. But they know where they’re going (their goal) and each bird aligns and adjusts to the one next to them. They make constant course corrections to account for anything from temperature changes, to storms, to obstructions. Their goal is clear and in-flight adaptation is built into their system. Businesses can learn a lot from migratory birds.
The goal is clear and adaptation is built into their system.
DISTRIBUTE YOUR IMPERFECT IDEAS
Data and technology provide organizations with the perfect tools to feed a real time adaptation loop. But for these tools to work, an organization needs to be ready to ask the right questions at the right time and be prepared to adjust and adapt according to signals from their live environment. Just like those migrating birds – businesses must adapt and make constant adjustments to real life situations – many of which you can’t plan for.
Top executives in large companies need to acknowledge that to create a culture of experimentation, they should provide direction, not rigid directives, and allow hypotheses to be tested. Executives should be clear and transparent about what they’re trying to learn. Most importantly they should proactively share their own failures to create a safe learning environment where the organization is not waiting on the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion).
CELEBRATE SMALL FAILURES FOR FUTURE SUCCESS
Pioneering businesses often celebrate small failures that lead to learnings and help create high-frequency learning loops. Teams learn fast and are set-up to deliver great results in a supportive culture of experimentation. Good experiments have to fail at least 50 percent of the time and often much more, because otherwise we’re just testing the obvious and not really learning.
True experimentation is one of the most effective ways of achieving successful outcomes and making your organization transformation ready. Let the teams take imperfect ideas and craft them into innovative solutions that deliver on the business outcomes. When we as leaders create and communicate a clear direction, empower the teams and promote a culture of experimentation, we are building organizational muscle memory for turning technology into business opportunities.