Neces­sity really is the mother of inven­tion, but also of its sib­ling, inno­va­tion. If you are miles from nowhere and some­thing impor­tant breaks, you fig­ure out a fix. If you are within com­mu­ni­cat­ing dis­tance of a shop or ser­vice offer­ing that fix, you almost always let them do the heavy lift­ing, escap­ing an oppor­tu­nity to exper­i­ment and inno­vate to develop a fix for your challenge.

Con­tem­po­rary lifestyles are set up to dis­cour­age exper­i­ment­ing, pro­vid­ing con­ve­nient options at every turn, includ­ing the dis­pos­able one that allows us to sim­ply replace rather than repair. Fix­ing things has more value than just putting some­thing back into ser­vice. It teaches lessons on how things work and why things break. Fix­ing things inspires cre­ative solu­tions through trial and error exper­i­men­ta­tion, result­ing in inno­v­a­tive improvements.

In a book titled The Innovator’s DNA, the authors explore what makes those that invent, exper­i­ment, and inno­vate, tick. How do they think? What do they habit­u­ally do that oth­ers do not? Where do they look for answers and solutions?

One of the authors of the book, Jeff Dyer, recently spoke with my team at Adobe. Jump­start­ing our inno­v­a­tive engines with sug­ges­tions to improve cre­ativ­ity and inno­va­tion, Dyer under­scored the impor­tance of mak­ing asso­ci­a­tions between things that seem com­pletely unre­lated, through asso­cia­tive think­ing. An impor­tant, every­day, uni­ver­sal dis­cov­ery skill used by inno­va­tors, asso­cia­tive think­ing, as dis­cussed in my pre­vi­ous blog, is sup­ported by the four addi­tional dis­cov­ery skills: of ques­tion­ing, observ­ing, net­work­ing, and experimenting.

Exper­i­ment­ing, Dyer noted, is inte­gral to the dis­cov­ery and inno­va­tion process.  It is also one of the things that most sets inno­va­tors apart from the crowd. How do inno­va­tors experiment?

  • They undo what’s done. They unwind, unscrew, dis­con­nect, and oth­er­wise dis­man­tle some­thing to see what makes it tick, from both phys­i­cal and intel­lec­tual perspectives.
  • They try some­thing new. They per­form an old task a new way, try some­thing they’ve never tried before, or go some­where they have never been before.
  • They build some­thing. A pro­to­type. A new busi­ness. A unique process. Then they test it to see what happens.

Early in my career I had the priv­i­lege of learn­ing how to test and exper­i­ment to improve my mar­ket­ing impact from Dr. Flint McGlaugh­lin through courses offered by his Mar­ket­ing Exper­i­ments group. Dr. McGlaugh­lin and his team con­ducted split A/B tests that revealed a mar­ket­ing strategy’s strength in engage­ment and con­ver­sion. It is where I cut my teeth with regard to test­ing my craft.

Mar­ket­ing Exper­i­ments merged the cre­ative aspects of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing with sci­en­tific inquiry and data-driven prin­ci­ples. The heuris­tic for­mula helped me under­stand the rela­tion­ship and impor­tance of value propo­si­tions and fric­tional ele­ments that affect con­ver­sion and optimization.

That inno­v­a­tive frame­work con­tin­ues as a strong part of what I did at Omni­ture and con­tinue to do at Adobe. Our exper­i­men­ta­tion and test­ing has led to an increase in con­ver­sion and opti­miza­tion on our web­site over the past three or four years by about 500 per­cent. It has also dou­bled, per­haps even tripled, con­ver­sion on the Adobe Mar­ket­ing Cloud site. Test­ing things like con­tent, lay­out, design, and func­tion­al­ity, in about 300 con­cur­rent tests, gives us new options that tell us what works as well as what doesn’t.

So go ahead. Let your­self exper­i­ment with some­thing new. Take some­thing apart. Build a model. Or just fix some­thing. Give your­self the gift of oppor­tu­nity by learn­ing new things through the exper­i­men­tal process. The results may not be what you expected, but they could lead you to some­thing big­ger in the form of an inno­v­a­tive dis­cov­ery that sig­nif­i­cantly changes the way we do some­thing on a daily basis.