“Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” – Jeff Bezos
It’s hard to live without a smartphone these days- impossible if you’re trying to run a business. There’s a world of applications out there to make life easier for business owners and individuals alike, and in the space of twelve years since the launch of the original iPhone, we’ve come leaps and bounds in terms of processing power and features. Now, I’d like you to imagine what would have happened if Steve Jobs and the team didn’t start experimenting with an all-new approach to the mobile phone all those years ago. I’m not by any means suggesting that the smartphone wouldn’t have transpired, it’s certain that it would have eventually, but Apple’s experiment got the wheels in motion and now we’re screaming down the highway at an impressive speed.
This is, experimentation in practice, and goes to show what a profound impact it can have on the lives and productivity of those that adopt a new technology. It goes to show the power of experimentation in business and the benefits it can have to society in terms of new innovations.
Experimenting in business isn’t merely an exercise to maintain current profits- it’s an experiment that could exponentially improve your bottom line with a new, innovative product or service for your customers. There’s a lot to unpack with a topic like this: the dangers around complacency – which I’ve written about – as well as drastically shaking up the “but, we’ve always done things like this” culture that can erode the potential of an organisation from reaching its full potential.
SO, WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO EXPERIMENT IN BUSINESS?
Smart business experiments can do wonders in improving customer experiences. This could be done through the use of focus groups, giving the organisation a better idea of where exactly it can improve and allowing experienced managers to lead companies to implement more calculated strategies in order to continue growing a business. While large scale experimentation might be off the table to smaller businesses due to a lack of budget, experimental cultures in smaller businesses can still be beneficial in the long term as they are often developing new products or services to adapt to changes in their markets.
In his book ‘Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power Of Business’ Harvard Business School professor Stefan Thomke shows that running disciplined business experiments allows businesses to gain a competitive advantage, using examples from large companies such as Amazon, Booking.com, Uber, Groupon and Microsoft. He states through trying out different business models or developing new products, these companies were able to rocket pass their competition and dominate their respective markets. Thomke also demonstrates that conducting a business experiment can be beneficial b2b and b2c organisations in terms of future growth.
If we unpack this topic in the context of high-tech companies out of Silicon Valley, Jeff Holden, the man responsible for building experimental engines at Amazon, Groupon and Uber says that “the philosophy is you have to build your company to be a big experimental engine and it has to start right at the beginning.” He also says that you should aim to “build a team inside your organisation that has an experimental ethos, and make sure that the experiment, value proposition, and hypothesis are really thought through before you invest the time and energy to actually do them.”
“Experimentation is the engine that drives innovation.”
None over the Google have published a post on the power of business experimentation, where the author says that “an important part of innovation is the field of business experimentation. Experimentation is the engine that drives innovation. We’ve seen that leading marketers are the ones who turn data into action to build a better, more useful experience for their customers. In fact, leading marketers in the US are more than two-times more likely than their mainstream counterparts to use site experimentation and strategic experiments.”
They also explained that organisations more likely to experiment with new strategic plans are ones with a strong culture of growth, which Google says assures that organisations stay relevant, offer personalised experiences that make the customer happy, generates high-level investments of support, talent and resources, and pays off in the form of more visitors, more sales, happier customers and a healthier bottom line. Their piece shows that the key elements of a culture of growth consist of creating a culture where your employees are prepared to “test everything, from call-to-action buttons to personalised home pages, run well-planned experiments with clear results that drive action, pay attention to what the numbers say, keep testing and learning daily, monthly and yearly, fail often and learn from those past failures.” This could also involve conduct a customer experiment or control group to test new ideas and ensure that you don’t fly blind into financially committing to a new idea that doesn’t have any legs.
I think that last point – organisations that are prepared to fail often and learn from their past mistakes – is particularly vital in this context. Too often, I’ve seen leaders be tempted by the idea of experimenting with something new, but the experiment doesn’t go to plan. They in turn become frustrated – sometimes at me for proposing the idea – and then go straight back to business as usual. This is first-class example of wasted potential, and a dangerous comfortability with complacency that could very well see that organisation disrupted by a competitor and suddenly uncompetitive in the market.
Now, in terms of monitoring these experiments, it’s as simple as implementing the plan-do-check-act cycle into a different context, and having someone in chart of monitoring the effectiveness of the experiment, as well as the crucial aspect of making sure what you’re experimenting with doesn’t impact your core offering to your customers, nor the promises your organisation makes to your customers. Experimentation, as I’ve explained, is an essential part of staying relevant and productive in a dynamic marketplace, but it shouldn’t necessarily come at the expense of your customers.
The price of trying something and failing pales in significance when you compare it to not doing anything at all, so if you’re feeling some trepidation when it comes to experimenting – or if you know your manager or CEO is feeling the same – just remember that organisations that fail to innovate and experiment are often left in the dust. Cast your mind back to my opening paragraph about Apple and the iPhone- imagine if they let one of their competitors in the door first.
The stakes are high, but they’re much higher if you’re not considering some experimentation in your organisation.