Enlightened Trial and Error for Busy Managers and Their Teams

Two posts ago we talked about sense-making as “the ability to make sense of what’s going on in a changing and complex environment.” Today I want to focus on a core pillar of sense-making— trial and error.

“Our world is changing radically. The age of intuition, gut instinct, opinion, and natural creativity is on the wane. These are romantic notions and we love to believe in them, but when the data comes in they are being increasingly proven not just to be wrong, but horribly wrong.” —Gerry McGovern

Trial and error in today’s workplace takes on a new level of importance because both management processes and their effect on the end-consumer are more measurable than ever. In order to navigate marketplaces that change at lightning-speed, testing results can sometimes be the only way to know what works.

That’s right. All the training, all the consulting, and the best MBAs in the country won’t guarantee you can predict outcomes of your management decisions and product innovations.

The quote above by Gerry McGovern comes from a now infamous blog post about how top website-building experts couldn’t predict the better choice between two simple landing page signup forms for the SIMS computer game. Why couldn’t they come up with the right answer? Because even seasoned experts have to collect data before making an informed decision.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what you think the best option is when facing innovative decisions— it only matters what actually works. Data is truth. Luckily, we live in a world where every single workplace action and effect can be measured and analyzed.

“Incremental success is better than grandiose failure.” —Winston Churchill

COACHING TIP: How can you apply this to your team? When looking to innovate, you need to pilot new projects on the market— quickly. Implement an imperfect but well-formed idea, and then rapidly gauge results. Did the customers respond how you thought they would? If not, how did they respond? What worked? What failed? Make changes based on the data, and test it again.

“Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the long genius.” -Peter Skillman, President, IDEO

Next Steps: Everything here is all good and well, but applying innovation practices can be tricky. Oftentimes teams are pressured to be entrepreneurial while still hitting performance metrics -the incentive to try new things dissipates. Here’s a fix: try to implement a new idea in a highly segmented situation. Take one small task for one client and try the change there, even communicate with the client about the decision. They might welcome the fresh approach, and you can implement a new practice in a low-stress environment.

Example— A sales manager and her team were committed to differentiating themselves from their competitors by bringing high value to each sales call, and measuring the impact on the customer. For six weeks each sales rep initiated every sales call with a current, and targeted, piece of marketplace or business data, followed by an insightful question that generated a much deeper conversation about the customer’s business. After six weeks the team initiated a simple customer satisfaction survey that bumped up their overall satisfaction scores from 84 percent to 96 percent! Crafting a discreet, well designed, trial of a new product or service is a low investment way of innovating business practices.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.” —Eric Reis

Taking this approach of enlightened trial and error, of targeted experimentation, will help your team validate or invalidate the assumptions made when trying new things. The X factor then is speed. How quickly can you measure results and react accordingly?

I hope that this post inspires you to take a scientific experimental approach to innovative decisions. Remember— keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring!

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www.steverudolphcoaching.com