The Experimenter’s Mind

Getting started is always tough. Getting from zero to one can be incredibly hard. For some — it’s the toughest step of all.

There could be a variety of reasons for this.

Part of it might be because we simply don’t want to get started. It doesn’t align with our true wants. If that’s the case — it’s a fantastic opportunity to do a little introspection. And part of it might be because we’ve got our minds fixated on the destination or the end goal — to only realize how colossal of a journey it would take to get there. Focusing on a long potential journey ahead and getting distracted by the magnitude of things. If we use the famous proverb of eating an elephant as an example, it’s about getting caught up with the enormity of the elephant instead of taking things one manageable piece at a time.

It’s part of being human. It’s simply hard to take that first step.

But what if we relieved a little bit of the pressure off of ourselves? What if we take a deep breathe and treat step one and getting started as what it is — one step as opposed to achieving that end goal in one fell swoop. What if we started treating more things like experiments.

Any project you’re thinking about pursuing, any initiative you’re thinking about jumpstarting — just look at it as an experiment. To its core — an experiment is something tentatively undertaken. A test. You can try an experiment. Test the waters as you gather more data points.

In the context of Growth at WeTransfer — I found that this slight perceptual change toward viewing initiatives as experiments to be highly liberating for the team. If a particular experiment works and moves the needle for Usage Growth, we’ll double down and take the next step toward our destination. Should it not, we can make a much more well informed decision having taken that first step, which will also help inform future experiments that are loosely or tangentially related.

This can also be wildly beneficial in a personal context. If someone is curious to try a particular new form of exercise, mustering up the energy and courage to just go try a class is not the same as having to commit to an annual membership upfront. If the first class is great, take another — allowing yourself more opportunity to decide whether it’s a path worth going down further. Taking it one step at a time instead of jumping in on the deep end.

No matter what it is that you’re trying to grow — whether that’s MAUs or a habit around a new exercise regimen, define that minimum viable test. An MVT is a lot like an MVP in the product development process. It’s the absolute bare minimum you can do with the least amount of resources to test whether it’s worth taking step two.

If it’s a content marketing initiative you want to identify an MVT for — use Seth Godin’s ‘first ten’ trick to test whether a certain piece of content will resonate. It only takes telling ten people to test whether you’ve got something on your hands. Get to that bare minimum — make that first step as small as possible. As you may have picked up, the key here is to learn, gather more info, and to make a more informed decision thereafter.

To close, let’s finish with a quote from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

One of the biggest strengths of beginner’s is their mindset — it’s the luxury of being less informed. Beginner’s often times have the courage to take the first step since they have no clue what potentially awaits them along their journey. It’s precisely that type of spirit that can allow us to take that first step and harness the experimenter’s mind.

Because the truth is — we likely won’t know what something is like or what something will lead to until we try.