Innovation and experimentation move easily beyond the usual places we are about them: mainly tech companies and startups.
Contrary to what some perceive that innovation and experimentation are the exclusive domain of those who “made it” their technology-enabled idea, this is simply not true.
Innovation and experimentation show up in all kinds of places outside of tech stuff. What is being done and how it is being done might not be using those words, but it’s in the work that the results speak for themselves.
At the core of the concepts of “innovation” and “experimentation” is the willingness to keep an open mind to attempt different ways to accomplish a goal.
Intuition and instinct play their role too when you get a glimmer of insight or a “what if” idea to go a different way with getting something done.
Yes, resistance shows up. In many different interesting forms.
What is critical is your willingness to try out an idea to accomplish something in a different way. Simple as that.
This is done by many, in many different areas, with different lived experiences that suggest alternate ways to think through and solve problems.
So, moving forward, let’s aside the notion that innovation and experimentation relate to tech-only stuff.
What is innovation?
Innovation is the application of alternate ways to solve problems.
This might be oversimplified for some, but this is how I see it.
Eric Shaver captured over 60 definitions quoting the definition of innovation in his recently updated article “The Many Definitions of Innovation”.
Dive into this collection of quotes to get your juices flowing on how you would define innovation.
In what ways do you innovate?
Start by asking yourself: In what ways do you explore alternate ways to solve the problems before you?
Unsure what might qualify as an alternate way?
Think about how you’ve been told how it’s always been done. Then, think about the different ideas that have occurred to you about how you could solve the problem.
Consider these various angles:
- Is there a different way to look at the problem?
- Can you break it down into smaller bite sized pieces?
- Is there a different angle from to approach solving the problem?
- Is there something that is done in a different area of your life that could be applied to solving this problem?
For example, you might have a hobby that approaches things in a different way that applied to this problem could bring a different solution.
What is experimentation?
Experimentation, at is most basic, is being systematic trying out different solutions to solve a problem.
There is no shortage of definition available in the world wide web to explain the scientific experiment. This approach definitely has its place to provide some grounding to develop a definition for experimentation.
However, if you’re not a scientist and are not writing scientific papers, you’re not bound by the specificities and even some of the pitfalls of the scientific method. By pitfalls I am referring to experiments that may feel amoral but from a strictly scientific method perspective it can be rationalized that it’s okay to go ahead with the experiment.
Many movies have explored this theme. I’m thinking of Splice, The Fly, the emotional content of many X-Men movies and I’m thinking of Wolverine’s origin story in particular. There are so many more shows and movies that unpack this theme of the moral limits of scientific experimentation.
It may seem here that I’m getting too far off topic but hang in there. Later on in this post, we’ll take a brief look the metaphysical aspects of experimentation, which links to morality from a different angle.
What is a culture of experimentation?
A culture of experimentation is at its simplest a group of people who allow for and support the people within the group to try out new ideas to solve problems.
Stefan Thomke shares a high-level overview of the key components to build a culture of experimentation in his article “Building a culture of experimentation”.
The building blocks he recommends includes:
- Cultivate curiosity
- Insist that data trump opinions
- Democratize experimentation
- Be ethically sensitive
- Embrace a different leadership model
- Be a role model
Why is there an ongoing trend to persuade people to integrate a culture of experimentation into their environments?
Simple, change can be scary. Change can disrupt the status quo. There are reasons why individuals or groups of people may wish to hold on to the way things have always been done. Many of these reasons relate to the ego. These ego-driven reasons favour the perception of stability based on a preferred underlying agenda.
In what ways do you nurture a culture of experimentation?
Even though some may resist a culture of experimentation, let’s focus on you.
In what ways do you nurture of culture of experimentation? Think about what you do in your day-to-day life and work that allows for new ideas to surface and be tried out.
Also, consider ways in which you may be limiting a culture of experimentation to flourish? Think about what secret fears or preferred outcomes you hold that might be presenting as roadblocks for you to try out new ways to solve same old problems.
The role of intuition and gut instinct to solve problems
In the push for hard evidence and systematic trial and error, there is danger that an important source for alternate ways to solve problems gets lost.
This invaluable source of alternate ways to solve problems relates to intuition.
It is within the space of our inner knowing that we can gain important insights on alternate ways to solve problems.
There are many reasons for this that link up to metaphysical considerations. There is the role of the imagination and visioning to explore alternate ways to see the world.
Our inner guidance system can provide interesting ways to examine a problem. It’s also possible for our inner guidance system to help dissolve a problem so that it no longer is a problem and therefore does not require a solution.
The key point here is to trust yourself that you have the answers within you, if you are willing to trust yourself enough to hear them out.
Then, try them out in small bite sized pieces to see to what extent they can help you solve problems you are dealing with.
How can you apply what you know about how you experiment and innovate to other situations?
This is the best part of the process. Once you’ve had a chance to unpack a bit within your mind what you do and how you do things in different areas of your life to solve problems, think about how you could apply those strategies to new situations that have a same old way of doing things.
The results usually end up being surprisingly remarkable.
And you can be assured that you will run up against resistance in many forms.
There is a great deal to be said about the positive and negative role of resistance. In many ways, the necessity to counterbalance too much change too fast is important to maintain balance. Yet, there is also risk in keeping things the same old way when the world is in constant change and movement.
The need to balance then shifts to managing that tension in positive ways between stability and improved ways to get things done.
What’s next for you?
The possibilities for you are endless.
Therefore, the next natural step is to spend some time understand how you work within a context of innovation and experimentation.
There is no right or wrong in this. What’s essential is to
- observe yourself in different situations as you try out alternate ways to solve problems
- pay attention to how the people interact and engage (or not) with these alternate approaches
- notice how the environment shifts and changes when alternate solutions are applied to the different situations
What you will learn about yourself, people and the world is invaluable. These observations will be very helpful to you as you go about growing your experience and skills innovating and experimenting.
I would find it immensely helpful to learn from you and your observations. Post your comments and thoughts here.