Mike Cushing / Innovation / July 10th, 2017

How to Build Useful Innovation Experiments

Experimentation lies at the heart of innovation – many corporate innovators even work within laboratories. Even incremental improvements to existing products require innovators to prove their assumptions and iterate upon successful ventures.

But what makes a good experiment? We know innovators often struggle to find a starting point, so let’s go back to the basics of the scientific method we all learned in school.

Don’t Work Alone

While some breakthroughs have come from lone brilliant thinkers, true innovation stems from collaboration. Nearly all modern advancements were driven by teams working to solve a common problem. Within the enterprise that means creating alignment and bringing people to the table.

As you’re creating an innovation team, leaders should take another note from the scientific field: diversity of thought and perspective leads to better outcomes. As Paul Litvak, Airbnb and Google behavioral economist, recently shared at the Flashpoint Innovation for All Conference, diversity is one of the most important qualities of an effective innovation team. Gathering people from varying racial, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds from within the organization can often result in the best experiments you’ll run.

Keep It Simple

Just like in science, the problems facing the enterprise can be nebulous, and require innovators to break problems down to their smallest form. Collaborative exercises like the design sprint framework help bring business stakeholders and innovators together to reduce large problems to manageable projects. And creating that early alignment makes it much easier to identify key metrics and find long-term answers.

Don’t Try to Prove Too Much

Corporations often task innovation labs with uncovering the next big thing or staving off disruption – which typically comes from unexpected places. Faced with that challenge, innovators often seek progress on all fronts, rather than tackling one problem at a time. It’s one reason enterprise organizations struggle to build minimum viable products (MVP); since enterprises avoid launching lightweight products, innovators attempt to prove multiple hypotheses all at once.

Innovators often think they need to solve for everything right out of the gate rather than proving the fundamentals can work and then build upon it later. Instead, labs should focus on solving a single core problem or identifying a single key metric for success. Narrowing your focus to one key performance indicator and reporting progress to stakeholders allows your team to effectively experiment and manage your progress through the innovation lifecycle.

Establish Control Early

The scientific method calls for a control group and a variable group within any experiment. In an enterprise design lab, innovators must be discerning with whom they test their new ideas. While testing an idea internally may deliver controlled results, the true variable will always be customers in the real world.

The outcome of any experiment should be knowledge, but you need to make sure it’s the right, actionable knowledge. Testing a prototype or a landing page with internal stakeholders is a surefire way to confirm internal assumptions or biases, not challenge them.

Accept Failure

Entrepreneurs know it’s OK to fail fast and learn – the same is true within the enterprise. True innovation is a 1-in-100 (or more) affair. For every one big success, innovators must deal with 99 meltdowns. The key is to learn from failure and rapidly pivot to a more promising direction.

If the organization’s innovation lab is structured correctly, executives will have a tolerance for risk and failure, as long as you build upon what you learn from the failure, you’ll eventually hit upon a successful product.

This article was originally published at EnterpriseInnovation.com, our new publication focused on corporate innovation strategy, profiles and news.