Why You Should Experiment

I experiment with many different ideas to create interesting content, drive traffic, earn links, rally communities and inspire people to action.  It’s a lot of fun, and at the same time a fantastic way to learn.  There is no limit to using open networks other than your creativity.  And, quite possibly the best way to learn and find what works for you personally is by experimenting.

The top companies and professionals in all fields are constantly experimenting, motivated by an unstoppable passion for what they do.  There are so many great reasons you should be experimenting daily with your blog, your marketing and your business.  I’m going to run through just a few…

Experiments attract attention

Human beings are infinitely inquisitive.  Marketing and content creation experiments are bound to attract attention if they are interesting or offbeat.  In fact, there are so many people outright copying each other and following the same methods that truly creative experiments will always get more attention than more of the same.

Experiments fail

And this is a beautiful thing.  The web makes the cost of failure so low it’s worth failing like crazy to learn what works.  Embracing failure as part of the process is a key characteristic of those who achieve success.

Experiments on the web are cheap

I touched on cost under the last point, but I want to highlight this further.  Think of how many millions major companies spend on things like TV advertising.  Even a percentage of that moved to experimenting on the web could yield huge ROI.  The web is measurable in ways far deeper than TV anyway and forges more intimate connections.  I’m not saying experiment as in merely shift TV advertising dollars to web advertising – do something genuinely interesting.

Experiments often work

I’m always pleasantly surprised by how often my experiments succeed.  One recent example:  I aggregated 22 inspirational quotes for a post at the end of 2008 and recently decided it would be fun to mash them up with images and upload it to SlideShare.  Interestingly enough it was viewed more than 5,000 times, favorited by more than 94 users on SlideShare, and Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, Steven Hodson, Eric Friedman, Leo Babauta, plus around 50 others embedded the presentation on their blogs.  Not bad for an experiment.  Imagine if you conducted 20 little content experiments just like this over the course of a year – that would add up fast.  Experiment mixing up your own content, especially in cases you don’t think it was given the proper exposure the first go around.  It might just not have been in the right format.

Experiments are interesting because they’re unrestricted

Are you in a traditional organization with lots of artificial barriers, yet looking to fully embrace the Internet for your marketing?  Get those up top to let their guard down and give you permission to experiment as you see fit.   You’ll quickly find the experiments will be even more successful than the overly-refined, corporate messages because they’re much more interesting and actually break through the clutter.  If you can’t remove the barriers, you’re not really experimenting.  Those who consistently restrict and move slowly will always place behind nimble competitors who have trusted, empowered people out front.

Experiments are fun

If your experiment isn’t fun, it’s not an experiment.  They’re so much fun because you don’t know the outcome – while you can hypothesize results based on your experience, intuition and prior art, you can never know for sure until you’re conducting it in the wild.

Experiments are just the types of things your “sneezers” will love

Seth Godin advises us to ignore our critics and fans, but focus on our sneezers:

Your fans don’t want you to change, your fans want you to maintain the essence of what you bring them but add a laundry list of features. You fans want lower prices and more contributions, bigger portions and more frequent deliveries.

So, who should you listen to?

Your sneezers.

You should listen to the people who tell the most people about you. Listen to the people who thrive on sharing your good works with others. If you delight these people, you grow.

In other words:  your fans want more of the same – but your sneezers are delighted by having new ideas and new things to tell the world about you.  Clever experiments deliver just that.

Experimenting is the sign of a strong purpose

Max Kalehoff brilliant states:

…far too many business leaders have lost sense of what their purpose is. They’re ships without a compass that points anywhere beyond profit. Their crewmembers typically can’t articulate what they’re doing, nor why others should join. It’s especially evident amidst the largest companies, many of which have become giant, self-absorbed and calculating machines. Think about the U.S. auto, finance and airline industries. Consider the advertising industry!

The good news is that purpose increasingly represents fundamental opportunity and advantage. Having purpose means knowing one’s self, as well as solving real customer problems. Maximizing purpose makes it easier for relevant customers to affiliate with you and develop preference. Purpose is what makes success possible.

Know your purpose, and experiment with that in mind.  When purpose is clearly defined and is something all team members embrace, it enables nimble companies, bloggers and marketers to conduct lots of little experiments with purpose and run circles around competition who spend all their resources second guessing themselves.  I’m not saying don’t have a strategy, just realize if you spend too long on that, those focused on action and purpose will pass you by again and again.

Google, a company with a strong purpose, understands the value in experimenting:

As an interesting motivation technique (usually called Innovation Time Off), all Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time (one day per week) on projects that interest them. Some of Google’s newer services, such as Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense originated from these independent endeavors.  In a talk at Stanford University, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, stated that her analysis showed that half of the new product launches originated from the 20% time.

Experimenting provides both subjective and objective insights

We learn by doing, and the more we experiment, the more unique and useful insights we have to assimilate and build upon.  What we learn during experimenting can be taken back and applied to improve our formal processes.  A key to building a huge following on the web is to continue to innovate and improve, and the more experiences you have, the better future decisions you’ll make.

Eric Friedman calls his experiments “Sandbox Projects,” and notes:

… it is always good to learn something by actually doing it – and web applications are no different. You can only learn so much in hypothetical situations or from reading about them in a textbook or case study situation.

Tim Jahn puts the benefits of experimenting into context nicely:

So many people are waiting for the million dollar idea.  That overnight success that will launch them into financial freedom and a mansion in the hills.

Others are trying five dollar ideas, failing, and then trying a different five dollar idea.  It may take them days, months, even years, but they’ll end up with something.

Are you experimenting with a good deal of frequency or just doing more of the same?  What do you think of companies that empower their teams to freely experiment vs. those where deviation is not an option?

Related posts:

How To Be More Creative

Don’t Worry About Being Original, Be Genuinely Useful

Your Marketing Is (Most Likely) Dated

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  1. T.J. Anderson replied | Apr 15, 2009 (1 comment)

    Experimentation is the kind of stimulation this country needs right now. Many people say that World War II was the solution to the great depression. But if you look at history that was also the age of Einstein, Madam Currie, and many amazing groundbreaking researchers. All of whom used the scientific method, which is simply stating what you think will happen and then trying it, learn, repeat.

  2. Tim Jahn replied | Apr 15, 2009 (59 comments)

    I love what Max said: “Their crewmembers typically can’t articulate what they’re doing, nor why others should join.”

    If your employees have no idea what your company does or why others would ever want to be a part of it, there’s a big problem.

    Keep your company fresh and exciting by experimenting and trying new things. Experimenting has been proven to create great things. Look at any object near you at this moment. Experimenting played some part.

  3. Mark Dykeman replied | Apr 16, 2009 (10 comments)

    “The web makes the cost of failure so low it’s worth failing like crazy to learn what works. ”

    This phrase caught my eye because it’s very similar to one of the themes of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”. In his context, he uses it to describe one of the reasons that Linux was able to grow and thrive and why established companies like Microsoft wouldn’t be able to handle it – the cost of failure would be too high for MS.

    Another great post!

  4. Adam Singer replied | Apr 16, 2009 (634 comments)

    @T.J. Anderson – agreed, the world always needs more experimenting and learning, it is a perpetual process for our species.

    @Tim Jahn – Max is very quotable…as are you!

    @Mark Dykeman – yes, that is where the quote is from – click the link and it takes you to when I referenced Clay. Great catch.

  5. If you are not constantly experimenting and trying new things then you are going to become very stagnant very quick!

  6. adam replied | Apr 19, 2009 (1 comment)

    “Experiments on the web are cheap.” That’s all the incentive right there. If your experiment wins, you win big. If it fails, you lose almost nothing.