Experiment and Strategy

The word “experiment” seems to have two, almost different meanings. One one hand we think of it as a one-off, radical thing; experimental art and music are out there, crazy, avant garde. The opposite of systematic, methodical.

On the other hand we have science. Experiments in science are a core process. They’re how we do science and they’re very much systematic and methodical.

Lean Startup reminded me of this apparent dichotomy. Lean Startup experiments are designed, methodical, iterative, repetitive (if done properly). In fact they become one of the only truly meaningful ways to learn anything, in the same way that babies learn: trying something new, making mistakes, trying something different. Human beings all grow up this way and then at some point in our lives most of us start to lose the will to experiment.

Eventually we start to see the experiment as something outside our normal behaviour, rather than the mode of our behaviour. If we’re not careful we apply this outside view to everything in life. We forget that methodical concepts like strategy are heavily reliant on experiment. Rather than strategy being a known entity we execute, strategy is simply a framework for experiment, and what we do naturally as babies we need to design as adults.

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