Innovation Experiments: Scary Science

Before Design Thinking and Lean Start-Up became the bedrock for corporate innovation best practice, if teams wanted to test a new idea they would pretty much proceed to full launch and cross their fingers. They would run lots of focus groups, talk airily about a ‘test and learn’ project, recruit an energetic team and proceed to launch, accompanied by a stack of KPI’s and some healthy projected revenue streams. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t…

The rise of the start-up has allowed corporates to rethink their approach to innovation.

Start-ups are often resource constrained but want to move at speed whilst minimising risks. Instead of launching fully formed projects, experimentation is seen as the way forward. Experimentation is about finding your riskiest assumption in your idea and then working out the fastest, cheapest, smallest thing you can do to test this assumption. Saving time and money should resonate with corporates as well as start-ups but often this approach does not sit well in corporate environments. That’s because many experiments are based on the ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy as you try to understand if customers are really interested in your new product or service.

Examples of Experiments

  • Instead of spending budget on developing the technology to solve a problem, first produce a short video from a customer perspective which demonstrates the technology in action and see if it resonates.

  • Rather than fully developing a new service, design a leaflet or e-shot which details the service and ask customers to sign up to find out more.

  • In order to protect larger brands, it may be appropriate to develop a disposable new brand to see if sign-ups can be generated on a short lived website.

  • Rather than develop a fully automated service, mock up the front end online and use your team behind the scenes to make the service feel automated and personal to customers.

Experiments are a great way of learning more about your idea, the mechanics of delivering the idea and understanding what customers really want. However, it can be difficult to break down ideas into your riskiest assumption and to work out what you have really learnt.

One of the teams we were working with recently came back totally despondent as they had not been able to generate any sign-ups for a new service idea. They had developed a professional leaflet explaining the new service and spent time in a busy shopping centre trying to get people to sign-up to a newsletter to find out more. They returned back to base after a couple of hours thinking the idea was a failure, but actually what they had learnt was that a busy shopping centre was not the right place to sign-up new customers for this type of service.

It can feel very scary doing these type of experiments, particularly in complex corporate environments where there is a fear of failure and potential to damage existing brands and customer relations.

But it’s good to feel scared because that means you care and what you are doing is important. As Eric Ries, author of Lean Start Up says; “If you cannot fail, then you cannot learn.”

So if you are feeling brave and fancy a chat about the role of experimentation in innovation, please get in touch at

#innovation #experiments


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