Based on my past failures of I’ve taken on a lot of learnings from historic figures. That might seem somewhat strange in a connected world where everything seems to become outdated at an alarming rate. But the truth is that the ideas that worked before the internet still work today — even if the tools have changed a bit. Finding those ideas in the modern day requires filtering through a lot of hype and noise — and who really has time for that.

Thomas Edison is known as one of america’s greatest inventors — maybe the greatest inventor. But it’s not what he created, or how famous he was that really interests me. What interests me is his process.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

One of Edison’s most famous quotes was made while he was in the process of trying to develop nickel-ion batteries. Edison was being interviewed by a reporter and the quote was in response to a comment on Edison’s lack of success. Failure in Edison’s book is only achieved when you stop trying. What leads to success is experimentation.

Finding What Works

Based on my experience, research will only take you so far — unchecked it can easily eat up all of your time and without action that research can’t and won’t product results. What actually delivers is experimentation. This is still true in today’s online world, it’s just a little harder to see. With everyone trying to sell their own products experiments are obscured, but they’re still there under the surface. What’s lying underneath is hundreds and thousands of experiments vying for our attention. The experiments that work survive, and those that don’t die are soon forgotten. This is survival of the fittest in the most brutal sense — the survival of dreams.

Entire business methodologies have been built up based on Edison’s principles, even if that’s not what they look like. Lean startup methodologies popularized by Eric Ries revolve around producing a minimum viable product (MVP) and adding additional features based on customer feedback. This in itself is an experiment — as customers often don’t know what they need or want until they see it. An entire business can, and should be built up based on the outcome of an endless number of experiments.

Does the concept sound good? Yes
Does design A look good? Yes
Does design A make people want to buy our products? No — change the design.
Does out advertising copy attract customers?
Does design B attract more customers than our previous design? Yes
Does design C improve on that? No — Go back to design B, make a modification and experiment again.
Does product X appeal to the audience design C attracts?
Does “potential” inclusion of feature 5 attract customers?
Does the actual inclusion of feature 5 actually lead to more customers?

Countless experiments may need to be run before the business is a success — it’s only a failure once you stop experimenting. Likewise if you never experiment you’re going to have to hit the perfect combination first time — and what are the chances of that happening?