Experimentation Nation

I think the first thing you learn to do as a kid is experiment. You’re encouraged to walk, which is no doubt a semi-terrifying experience to the brain: for almost a whole year, your body has been picked up, or low to the ground, and then suddenly your parents, who are the protector of you are encouraging you to stand on two wobbly feet, and move your own body. At first, we’re terrible at it, but we’re encouraged to keep trying, and one day, a crawl becomes a first step, and those steps become a graceful walk, run and every day part of our lives. If we didn’t experiment, trust, learn and growth through the success and failures of trying, we’d all be crawling around.

Then, as a child, parents, siblings, and friends encourage you to try things, to figure out what you like and don’t like, what you’re good at, and what you’ll likely leave to other people. You’re encouraged to fail, to find what you’re passionate about, and to excel where you can. I thought I would be good at music, both my parents are musically inclined, and I just assumed I would be good at it to. I am here today to tell you, I am not not. Instruments bored me, singing in public made me want to barf, and I vividly remember a Sunday night church service where I stood up with my mom, dad and sister (who is musically inclined), and cried.the.whole.time. I learned my skills were better placed elsewhere through public failure, but also the encouragement of the people around me to explore, try and not give up.

As young adults (and if you’re like me, well into your adult years) you’re encouraged to “find the right one” — the one human on earth that completes you (this is a myth, but for another time). It’s all a big experiment, testing to see if personalities, opinions, likes and dislikes match or clash, and if lifestyles, goals and dreams, and wants for the future line up. Life continues to be a series of experiments: some go really well, some go ok, some kinda fail, and some fail miserably. But we’re always encouraged to try them and learn, grown and become better personally.

Work though? I think it’s a different story.

I’m not sure when this first started, but the tendency to stick to what you know in the workplace always seems to be around. No matter if you work at a 100 year old bank, or a budding startup that claims they disrupt every single industry in the world and encourage you to try everything all the time. At some point you will be met with some version of “well we’ve never tried that, so don’t do it or stick to this — it’s worked before”. People enter the work force and think “omg but what if I fail?” and you are encouraged to try within a set of parameters set out by your bosses, coworkers and the people who have come before you.

Experiment within these lines, because they’ve worked for us in the past.

I’ve seen this over and over again with companies, and in particular ones who have technical founders. They have learned through rigorous and logical experimentation which allows them to develop and excel in their skill set. They set up structure and logic that makes sense to move forward for them, but drawing outside those lines often leads to misunderstandings and confusion with creative people who don’t live within that logical structure. It sometimes feels like you’re pushing boulders up a mountain to make someone understand your different point of view; especially when it comes to areas they don’t understand. “What do you mean you want to host customer events to try the product? We’ve had some success with Facebook ads, so we keep doing Facebook ads” …even though a preliminary event produced 3 times the ROI. I’ve feared experimenting in the past for these very reasons.

Experimenting in Marketing, Sales and Customer Success is vital to growth and survival, and necessary to avoid “we do this because it’s what’s been done before”. That phrase is where my soul goes to die. Dramatic? Maybe, but also true. With buzzwords flying around like growth flywheel, A/B testing, customer success even, it’s hard to know what they mean, where to start, or what to do. So a lot of people sit in analysis paralysis — knowing what they know about the past, but unable to move forward with future plans, because they’re afraid to try, afraid to fail, afraid to experiment.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them — Albert Einstein.

I am here to tell you that in whatever field you’re currently in, trying and experimenting, and having the flexibility to do it, is truly the only way to grow your own skills, and grow a business. Trust in traditional sales, marketing and customer success is at an all time low, and the only way to rebuild that trust is through experimentation, trying something new! Find where your customers shop, look, read, receive information, and find creative and clever ways to reach them, sharing your product in innovative ways. Help retain customers through thought-leadership or helpful tips in app to create a better experience. Heck, try blogging to see what happens. Stand on a street with burgers and ask for people’s opinions to organically grow sales.

The point is to try, to have success, but to learn from the failure without judging yourself, instead improving yourself through the learning. So you thought a blog series on ice tea consumption would lead to more people buying, pleaded your case, got approval, built a campaign and ran it for 3-months and sales stayed the same. You actually fail if you don’t analyze the data and adapt and try again. Your failure wasn’t trying something new, it comes from not learning forward. And if you’re in an environment that stifles experimenting, you’re in the wrong place. Or if there are people in your life who tell you to just do what should be done because it’s been done before or not to try something new, you’re hanging out with the wrong people.

Try, try, try again. Learn, adapt, grow. Life is an experiment, and work should be no different. Experiment and try, and encourage others to do the same.

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