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Scared to experiment at work? Don't be.

February 07, 2019   ·  

How comfortable is your company with the idea of experimenting?  

We're actually doing it all the time (without calling it such)... but often the idea of running "experiments" can sound too "risky, new, unproven" for many...

Humans crave certainty, or at least our brains do, but this alone doesn't explain why openly experimenting is so unappetising... or why in so many workplaces, unless new ideas come with "guaranteed" outcomes... they gain little or no support... 

Faced with reactions like that to our ideas... it's easier and safer to do nothing! 

Every time I see the oft-quoted stat that  "70% of change initiatives fail" (which, by the way, has been soundly debunked)... I'm reminded of just how easy it is for us to get into the mindset where anything less than perfect is failure... that makes everything binary. 

The effect is simple - it slows growth, it slows innovation and ultimately it results in a kind of paralysis inside our organisations where nobody is willing to try anything new for fear of it being regarded as a failure.  

The very best you can hope for if your company is guilty of thinking this way... is that everyone waits for someone else to try things instead of feeling able to try them for themselves. 

I've come to think about all business as a giant experiment, nobody knows for sure what's going to happen but  in almost every business context, leaders use their experience, knowledge and insights to determine which levers to pull and then see what happens, adjusting and iterating as they go. 

When it comes to cultural change or "engaging employees" (possibly my least favourite expression) we regularly see companies where everyone is waiting for management to fix the problems and not only does this place an unhelpful burden on managers, it means that the changes when they are implemented are never owned by the people... they're done to them. 

Consider instead a scenario where we actively encourage people to come up with their own short experiments, to identify things they think they can change for themselves with their teammates... designing and testing their hypotheses, tracking the results and adjusting accordingly... 

Not only would this result in a different level of ownership, but it will start to build a belief and joy in the process of continuous change. 

If that wasn't enough... it creates an appreciation of curiosity and learning.

"The most resilient companies foster a pervasive culture of innovation at all levels of the organisation - one that values risk-taking, embraces experimentation and considers failure an inevitable part of thinking boldly."

Lynne Doughtie US Chairman and CEO KPMG

Fostering a culture of experimentation doesn't require transformation, just the time, space and support for people to experiment, and a change of mindset. 

Little changes that make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today... well, just imagine how transformational that would be.

David Bellamy
David Bellamy

Founder and CEO, Connect with David on LinkedIn

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