The Value of Experimenting – The Innovator’s DNA

This is the third of five key skills of highly successful innovators from the book: “The Innovator’s DNA” by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen. The first two, Observing and Networking, provide links between an R&D organization and the outside world. This is absolutely critical to increasing the frequency and quality of new insights. However, these two attributes aren’t sufficient to create a successful culture on their own.

Experimenting is the next critical step in increasing the odds of creating disruptive innovations. The word experimenting is used broadly to cover testing ideas and learning from them. This can be in a traditional R&D lab or it could be market testing an idea with consumers to determine if it is appealing. The key is that it must be easy and quick to perform experimentation to foster a culture of learning. The faster your team can learn about their ideas, the faster they will identify the issues with them, and there will be issues with them. Innovation often requires iteration to take a good idea and make it great, through learning and modifying.

Failure is acceptable provided it is done quickly, efficiently, and cheaply; and that there is valuable learning from it.

As an innovate leader, ask the following questions of your organization to challenge whether you are succeeding at fostering an innovative environment:

1) Is it easy for your teams to test their ideas? (in the lab, in the field, in their office, etc…)

2) Are people learning from their failures?

3) Do you have methods for failing cheaply and quickly to reduce the risk and encourage testing?

4) Is an emphasis placed on learning in the early stages of projects (vs putting the emphasis on achieving success)? The learning will ultimately result in bigger business successes if it is allowed to happen.