Experimentation is about trying new things with an outlook that the results may be less than favourable. An experiment is about minimal expectation. If the experiment works out, great. If it does not, you have created a learning opportunity.

Tim Ferriss recently released a podcast, detailing the failure stories of some of the world’s most successful people

In his podcast, Tim talks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Malcolm Gladwell, Bryan Johnson, A.J. Jacobs and Shep Gordon whilst reliving some of his own failures.

The podcast emphasised a number of truths which may become the foundations of building a strong experimentation capability. Most prominent was the expectation of success that we set upon ourselves in whatever we do. A motive which can become disabling in a corporate environment.


Start-ups fail in this so why should we experiment?

In 2015, Forbes reported that 90% of startups fail. Reasons included product demand, attention to detail, talent and either lack of or too much unsustainable growth. 

CB Insights built a formidable list detailing 232 start-up failure post-mortems. A list which acts as a horrifying wake up call to those aspiring yet fearful experimenters whom experience the same startup-destroying lessons.

It is this embracing of failure though that drives the successful start-ups. It may be seen as fortune favouring the brave. But the reality is its about hedging bets. 

The answer is: why wouldn’t you experiment if you could minimise the impact of innovating to your business? Think of all those large-scale programmes which have endured, exceeded budget, not gone to plan etc. 

Think experimentation can help here? Of course it can!


Why is this important to the corporate enterprise?

Experimentation is something that all corporates should embrace to some degree. For too long has the typical corporate had the best intentions but not necessarily approached it in the right way. Approaches like:

  • a strategic focus on innovation but not involving the customer
  • embracing vast, culturally disruptive, lengthy, organisation-wide transformation initiatives as a means to inject innovation
  • an inability to instil the practices to think beyond horizon 1; followed by 
  • an entire focus on delivering against horizon 1 with little or no focus upon horizon 2 or horizon 3 (see McKinsey’s 3 Horizons of Growth)

Finally, and arguable most critical:

  • refusing to address the highly challenging deeper underlying cultural issues which severely block innovation at a grass roots level

The above are like a virus. Each one debilitating the organisation at a greater degree when working in unison. Followed by the killer blow of the ‘anti-experimentation’ practices becoming the norm and essentially the lifeblood of the organisation.

A symptom is responses such as “we have always done it this way so can’t change” begin to arise. People become too comfortable.


Why will experimentation help me to innovate?

Returning to the start-up approach, every start-up experiments to some degree. Generally the experimentation happens in the development of their initial idea. As well as ongoing iterations of that idea and new products.

Taking the ideas you have truly back to basics vastly reduces the impact upon your business. It makes innovation less costly. It allows talent to revel within an idea culture. It enables you to think ahead towards the future rather than battling in business-as-usual. It enables you to try new things in a matter of days or weeks as opposed to months or years. You run hundreds of experiments a year as opposed to one-widespread programme.

Ultimately, it allows you to better serve your customers!

Our proposal is that you, as a corporate enterprise, experiment too. In the way start-ups do.


How should I approach experimentation?

Experimentation allows you to truly bring an idea back to the very basics. Think of how a startup with a shoe-string budget would approach it:


Define a Hypothesis: An incredibly important first-step is define what you are setting out to achieve. In true experimentation fashion, you are setting out your end-goal and test criteria:

  • The experiment will result in 15% decrease in customer service cases
  • The experiment will result in 10% increase in revenue
  • The experiment will see an increase of 3 NPS points

These are the high-level hypothesise. The more specific you go, the more focused and streamlined your experiments become. Take the ‘customer service cases’ as an example:

  • Incorporating customer self-service will see an 8% decrease in customer service cases raised
  • Building a knowledge portal will see a 4% decrease in customer service cases raised
  • Introducing an IVR will result in a 3% decrease in calls reaching an agent due to questions been answered prior to connection

The hypothesise form the basis of the experiment and are essential in acting as the success beacon for the task at hand. Without the hypothesise, how do you know if you are successful?


Customer-focus: The customer is critical to your business so involving them early is crucial. As power-users of your products, building an idea community should be your ultimate goal. This takes considerable time and effort though so setting the foundations is crucial which can be achieved through:

  • involving your customer in idea generation
  • building communities / forums for idea and issue sharing
  • integrating customer feedback into design and prototyping sessions
  • extending testing to as wide a customer base as possible

The way that start-ups approach customer-driven experiments is to utilise tools and techniques to act as validation including: social media, crowd-funding, SurveyMonkey, interviews and focus groups.


Minimal Resource Overhead: Experiments should be executed in a manner which is conducive to operating with as small a team as possible. Think lean. Consider the ways in which a start-up with limited budget, talent, process, practice (and the rest!) would execute it. Typically, the talent utilised varies between experiments but think about what it is that you need to prove:

  • can you run the experiment without any code?
  • are you able to leverage already existing data to validate the idea?
  • is it possible that you can tap into an already existing community?

Start-ups approach the validating of their ideas through as minimal impact as possible because those constrains are (usually) enforced upon them. It needs to be no different for the corporate enterprise.


Minimal Viable Experience: Some experiments do require a degree of coding, prototyping or even something close to a developed product. In these instances, the degree to which the product is developed must be carefully considered. Think about how you can truly bring the product back to basics yet still see the results needed to validate the idea:

  • is there a way the idea can be demonstrated through images or wireframes? Apps such as POP by Marvel may be useful here
  • if a physical product is required, can there be compromises on materials used throughout the experiment?
  • what features are REALLY needed to prove the experiment?

Approaching the experiment with a minimal viable experience in mind brings the idea truly back to the very basics. And that is all it needs to be! In most cases anyway. Anything more is potentially an impact to your overall innovation agenda.


Reduced Timelines: When experimenting, everything should be geared towards fast paced results. Ultimately, time-to-market is often critical whilst reducing cost often is too. Accelerate the innovation agenda through:

  • ensuring the customer need is a primary focus
  • driving down the impact on talent
  • focusing on the minimal viable experience

The reduced timescales and overall impact allow your business to focus time and efforts elsewhere. Instead of firefighting or battling that large-scale transformation, think smaller scale. 

The reduced timelines through a combination of the points raised will be an excellent step forward in helping your organisation to accelerate your innovation journey.


Closing Remarks

When considering experimentation, think about the degree of impact which your traditional method of innovation will incur. Experiments may not always be successful but neither are full-scale transformation programmes. Integrating experimentation as a mechanism to design and test the future in rapid succession is an approach to truly realise a prosperous future for you and your business. We invite you to learn more and register for our webinar on experimentation: Experiment with Experimentation - Focus on Barclays case study