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TECH TALK: An Entrepreneurs Attributes: Experimentation Trying New Things

November 24th, 2003 · No Comments

An entrepreneur must be an experimenter, constantly trying out different things and exploring alternate avenues. Many of the experiments may fail, but out of these will arise learnings. Experimentation is what leads to innovation.

Inc has a review of a new book by Stefan Thomke on this very topic: Experimentation Matters. Inc summarises the six principles outlined by Thomke on managing the experimentation process:

1. Anticipate and exploit early information through “front-loaded” innovation processes. Thomke explains how there is much value in finding potential failures as early as possible. Considering the vast expense of late-stage failures, whether they are in drug experiments, software development, automobile crash simulations, or aircraft development, using new technologies early in R&D projects helps teams avoid potential problems downstream. Examples from Microsoft, Boeing and Toyota show how millions of dollars can be saved through early experimentation.

2. Experiment frequently but do not overload your organization. Although many early tests can minimize problem-solving delays and costs of redesign, organizations must be ready to handle the increasing amount of information that the experimentation will bring. Thomke uses an extensive and detailed case study from BMW to highlight this principle.

3. Integrate new and traditional technologies to unlock performance. New technologies can create impressive results, but they are not perfect and are not stand-alone techniques. Thomke writes, “To unlock their potential, a company must understand not only how new and traditional technologies can coexist within such a process but also how they enhance and complement each other.”

4. Organize for rapid experimentation. The ability to experiment quickly is an important component to effective learning. Since virtual experimentation brings organizations information earlier, managers are able to use results to guide their decisions about the use of major resources and avoid reworking bad designs after a company has committed itself to them. Thomke shows how rapid experimentation helped BMW learn how to make cars safer.

5. Fail early and often but avoid “mistakes.” New ideas are bound to fail, so early failures help to eliminate unfavorable options quickly and facilitate learning. Failures can produce new and useful information.

6. Manage projects as experiments. Leaders should have a portfolio of experimental projects from which they can learn that are managed with the same seriousness that is applied to other business processes. Using a project as a learning experiment and an agent of change can help a company investigate diverse concepts.

For me, experimentation is another word for entrepreneurship. Let me give a personal example. During my IndiaWorld days, we created 13 India-centric websites 9 of these did not work, but 4 of them (Samachar, Khoj, Khel and Bawarchi). When we started, little did I know which ones would work and which would not. The approach we took was to try out our new ideas, and keep the cost of experimentation low, till we got preliminary feedback from our readers. We were willing to fail, and that is why we succeeded.

Tomorrow: Value-Added Aggregation, Knowledge


TECH TALK An Entrepreneurs Attributes+T

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