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The close link between experimentation and innovation

...and how it affects success.

Many claim that we need to be better at innovation and experimentation in order to succeed. But how are the two linked together? Or are they? And how to form an organisation that has experimentation/innovation in its DNA? 

Experimentation does not necessarily mean innovation but without experimentation there will be no innovation. And innovate we must, to stay relevant in the digital era.

For repeatable success you need to know how your customers/stakeholders behave (Note: this applies to both internal and external customers/stakeholders) and you should base your innovation projects on the right figures, guesswork will make you dependent on luck. And luck is an unfaithful companion.

Fail fast mindset

Entering the innovation/experimentation path will mean that sometimes you will fail. It is in the nature of things. But we learn from our mistakes and creativity thrives in hardship. So we must allow failures. The focus should therefore be on ensuring that any possible mistakes have as little impact as possible and is detected early in the process – fail fast, and get back on track equally fast.

And, practice makes perfect, there are no shortcuts. You need to get your hands dirty, which means that your organisation has to have the right set-up and structured for experimentation. Below some inspiration that can get you going.

3 voices of inspiration

1. Emilia Saarelainen, UNHCR

Emilia takes us through experimentation and innovation by giving 3+1 reasons why experimentation is crucial for innovation, and she also shares 6 steps on how to get started.

  1. Define your purpose
  2. List your assumptions
  3. Identify the most critical
  4. Design and run the experiment
  5. Collect data
  6. Review results and decide on next step


In the simplest form, it is just about “trying things out”, Emilia Saarelainen

Why there is no innovation without experimentation

2. Daniel Newman, contributor Forbes

Daniel Newman CEO of Broadsuite Media Group, principal analyst at Futurum and author of Futureproof puts it elegantly: “A culture of innovation cannot exist without a culture of experimentation. If you want your organization to make the most of digital transformation, your success is going to hinge on your ability to determine what works best for your company.

How to build an innovative workplace culture with experimentation, Daniel Newman

And since a lot of innovation are digital initiatives:

3. Ongoing research project at MIT CISR

“Digital” and “innovation” are two sides of the same coin. A digital innovation is the result of marrying the capabilities of digital technologies with a business opportunity, such as to innovate a process or an employee experience, a product or service, or a new business model. Achieving the desired outcome is incredibly difficult. In their quest to be innovative, managers too often focus their attention on the “technical” aspects of a technology and lose sight of its fundamental capabilities in relation to data and information.”

Where “marrying the capabilities of digital technologies with a business opportunity” has to involve experimentation, maybe with the help of the 6 steps that Emilia suggests above.

Creating a Digital Innovation Toolkit (ongoing research project)

And from one of their recent publications:

"Digital strategies must tackle two uncertainties: what digital technologies can do to help solve customer problems, and what solutions customers would be willing to pay for. Successful digital strategies produce digital offerings—what emerges at the intersection between what is possible and what customers want. Companies must pursue a continuous stream of business experiments and engage with customers to maintain a fix on the point of intersection. This approach to strategy formulation is vital to the survival of established companies."

Rethink your approach to digital strategy: experiment and engage

Written by Susannah Eriksson