Ready, Set, Experiment!

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MAIM 2014: Throughout the next month we, the class of 2014, will be exploring themes that shape our collective vision of innovation, serving as inspiration for our upcoming final Degree Show. These key themes include: experimentation, chaos, risk, uncertainty, creativity and, of course, innovation.


If asked to think about ‘experiments’ one would probably recall their high school chemistry class, imagine scientists in white coats in even whiter laboratories, or perhaps crazy artists messing about with brushes and bright colours. However, our mainstream understanding of experimentation is changing, as its borders and applications are broadened. When used as a research and learning technique, experiments are infusing some un-comfortable ‘edginess’ to traditionally non-experimental industries, garnering positive results, growth and profit.


With experimentation comes unpredictability, and with unpredictability comes adaptation. Futurist Alvin Toffler described the worlds increasing unpredictability in his book Future Shock (1970), explaining that “as the general rate of change in society accelerates . . .  the economics of permanence are—and must be—replaced by the economics of transience”.  While the world continues to experience radical change, experimentation has proven to be a key process for organisations needing to adapt to new environments and markets.


From the design and innovation consultancy IDEO, to the innovation charity NESTA, many design-driven innovation agencies are emphasising the benefits of engaging with the creative process through experimentation and prototyping, highlighting it’s positive impact on the generation of new ideas, concepts and disruptive products or services. Even Stanford Business School is now offering an online course in bringing experimentation to your life and business, for businesses or curious individuals willing to explore new territories.


Somewhere between Silicon Valley and London’s “silicon roundabout”, the start-up scene seems to have fully embraced the concept of experimentation through the lean startup methodology, an approach that has spread like wildfire over the past five years. Teaching companies to generate and test experimental prototypes in the hands of their users early and often, the lean startup methodology aims to build products that have desirability built in while avoiding spending months (and money) on products that consumers don’t actually want.


The onslaught of digital technology is largely the reason why we, as users, are not surprised when presented with a “beta” version (i.e. a test version) of a website or application. Similarly, Facebook and Google are adopting experimentation on a massive scale by applying the “A/B Test process” to every new feature they want to implement – resulting in hundreds of different versions of their platform being tested in real time by real users.


Apart digital technology and other traditional products and services, businesses are even starting to experiment with their business model, by constantly revisiting what they deliver and how they deliver it in order to ensure their competitive edge.


So when’s the last time you or your organisation experimented? Although it is characterised by unpredictability, businesses, organisations and individuals can all learn from experimentation; the key lies in managing the opportunities that emerge. So put on your white coat, start to experiment and remember: the dirtier the coat, the harder you’re working!