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.