Experiments make people nervous, at least outside of a science lab. They feel too risky to have a place in the serious business of strategy development and implementation. But in the face of complex challenges, experiments – especially experiments designed with a fast feedback loop – are the only avenue to success. They are the cornerstone of agile strategy and our Strategic Doing workshops.
The Role of Experiments in Uncertain Terrain
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about these kinds of experiments with regular operations. No one wants a pilot experimenting with a new way to land an airplane or a pharmacist tinkering with medication dosages. There are good reasons for standard operating procedures in many industries. But in the face of uncertainty, experiments are often the way to go.
Leveraging Assets and Intuition
Where do good experiments come from? They come from what you already have at your disposal – your assets (and the assets you can marshal from those in your network), and the team’s intuition about possibilities. Both of those words might make you queasy: intuition? possible? Don’t we need more to go on than that?
Learning from Twitter’s Agile Strategy
This month’s Harvard Business Review includes an article that references the story of the origins of Twitter (now X), one I had not heard before. The predecessor of Twitter was Odeo, a podcasting platform. Things were going well until Apple announced their podcasting platform would be included as part of iTunes. The team needed to pivot quickly, and so they gathered to brainstorm about possibilities: whether they knew it or not, they were using an agile strategy technique.
The HBR author frames this kind of session as “a collective random search for new directions,” but I suspect it wasn’t completely random (after all, they didn’t decide to start manufacturing refrigerators!). Twitter could be built on the expertise and skills that Odeo had already accumulated. The team’s intuition (based on their experience in the online tech sector) was that there was an audience for a product that allowed users to share with friends and followers in short, quick bursts of words and images. And critically, it could be stood up quickly as a “minimal viable product,” giving the company time and space to iterate its way to success. If it hadn’t shown promise, they could have moved on to another of the possibilities they’d identified.
Embracing Experiments for Agile Success
In agile strategy, experiments are not just an option; they are often the key to navigating uncertainty and finding innovative solutions. By leveraging existing assets and intuition, teams can embark on purposeful experiments that lead to informed decisions and swift adaptations. The story of Twitter’s evolution from Odeo underscores the power of agile strategy, where experimentation and adaptability pave the way to success. If your team wants to identify how and where to conduct smart experiments, we can help.
If your team wants to identify how and where to conduct smart experiments, we can help.
Liz shepherds the expansion of the Lab’s programming and partnerships with other universities interested in deploying agile strategy tools. A co-author of Strategic Doing: 10 Skills for Agile Leadership, she also focuses on the development and growth of innovation and STEM education ecosystems, new tool development, and teaching Strategic Doing.