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05/3 2011

Should Companies Use Experimentation — Instead of Analysis — To Solve Problems?

Recent research has shown that companies with the strongest growth tend to prefer experimentation over other methodologies (statistical analysis, marketing research, or strategic planning) as a way of improving revenue and operational proficiencies…

So, in other words, companies with the strongest growth tend to encourage managed risk-taking and taking action when facing key problems, as opposed to static research and analytical activities…

Despite the preference for experimentation as described above, recent research by James Wilson and Kevin Desouza suggests that experimentation largely remains the focus of the R&D labs of the organization — instead of being an activity that is widespread in the organization.

Given that only a small percentage of the organization’s workforce is normally specifically assigned to R&D activities, Wilson and Desouza point-out that if experimentation activities are limited to the R&D area, a large percentage of the employee population will not be engaged in experimentation…

How can organizations encourage more widespread experimenation as a problem-solving paradigm?   Wilson and Desouza suggest the following steps:

  1. Increase Managerial Attention:  Managers should encourage — and even require — experimentation when new ideas are being developed and proposed
  2. Train Employees on the Experimentation Process:  Workers should have basic knowledge on how to collect data, rule out extraneous causes for findings, and analyze and communicate the outcome of their efforts
  3. Accept that Experimentation Can Get Messy:  Recognize that many experiments do not lead to fruitful results, and that the research process is an important activity in its own right
  4. Give Employees the Time, Resources, and Space to Experiment With Ideas:  Allow employees access to labs, data, research — and inside support — to help them experiment with their ideas
  5. Build a Process Where Experiments Can Be Done in a Systematic Matter:  The process should be tailored to the different areas of the organization, and the process should be refined and udated as new knowledge is gained from the experiments that are being conducted
  6. Create a Platform or Bulletin Board to Share Findings:  Organizations need an up-to-date and comprehensive strategy for sharing research findings, as many experiments may be done outside of formal corporate channels and outside of the normal work day)
  7. Allow intrinsically-motivated employees the opportunity to experiment, and give them access to the resources that more formal, officially-sanctioned experiments receive:  It is important to create a culture of experimentation within the organization
  8. Start a Working Papers and Presentations Series:  Include both researchers and practitioners, where individuals share results and get feedback from others

For more information, see “Intrapreneurship:  Managing Ideas Within Your Organization” by Kevin Desouza (University of Toronto Press, 2011).

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