5 Experiments to Accelerate Your Innovation Journey

By: Sanjay Sharma, Lead Inventor & Ed Mehmed, Director @ ?What If! Innovation

Rapid prototyping? MVPs? Lean Experiments? So many buzzwords! And for each of these buzzwords, there are countless books, blogs, podcasts, and workshops dedicated to spreading the gospel of an experiment-driven approach to innovation.

It’s easy to get lost in the jargon and bogged down in theory, but succeeding with experiment-driven innovation all starts with asking yourself one question: What am I trying to learn?

It’s a simple question, but to answer it, you need to look closely at your potential offering and identify the riskiest assumptions — those questions that you know the least about and that would have the most impact on success. Then map your assumption using the exhibit below to identify where you are in your innovation journey.

Once you hone in on exactly what phase you’re in, the next step is to identify the right experiment. At ?What If!, we use the Experiment Selector: 19 different low-cost and fast experiment options. Some of our favorites are the Wizard of Oz, Crowd Funding, Brochure, Pinocchio, and The Provincial. Let these experiments inspire you. Then design an experiment customized to your needs.

What kind of experiment will work best — digital or physical?

The form of experimentation doesn’t need to match your ultimate vision for the offering. When you’re in the Insight or Ideas phase, your goal is to test the core value proposition — in the fastest, cheapest, most effective way possible. Even if you ultimately plan to offer an offline service, consider low-cost digital tests as a way to quickly capture learnings at scale. Conversely, a digital solution may be best tested through offline experiments where you can gain the richness of in-person and in-the-moment feedback from future customers. Pick the lowest cost and fastest experiment that will deliver the learning you need.

Can you give me an example?

At ?What If! we work with our partners to design and field the right experiments to accelerate learning. Recently, we partnered with an organization that sought to launch offerings that would be truly transformational for their audience. In the Insights phase of our innovation journey, we used Immersion interviews to surface the pain points and core needs of their audience and get a sense for the scale of the market opportunity. Once we had clarity on the problem we were solving and for whom — we leapt into the Ideas phase and developed hypothesis ideas to be tested.

Next, we needed to learn more about the validity of our ideas. Before making major investments into product development, we ran a ‘Fake Door’ experiment. We bought a $10 domain name, set up a simple landing page, and set aside $40 a day for Facebook and Google AdWord advertising to the site. We measured the conversion rates of those who clicked on ads (tracking the AdWords that were resonating), visited the site, and had a secondary interaction by clicking a “Learn More” button. Almost a quarter of the visitors had this secondary interaction — compared to just over 10% for their existing offering. That result validated our assumption and gave us the confidence to move forward and further invest. For under $500, we got live and actionable feedback from our target audience in less than a week.

Lastly, we supercharged our experiment to go beyond data collection to uncover the ‘why’ behind the numbers. We set up in-person customer interviews and used our ‘Fake Door’ as stimulus and then probed to gain deeper understanding of their motivations and what they were looking for from our solution. This combination of digital simulation and in-depth, real-world insight immersion magnified our learning and accelerated our path to market.

Any last parting advice?

When we design experiments at ?What If!, we live by the mantra “Bolder, Faster, Cheaper.” We start with the dream experiment and then continuously and iteratively push ourselves to design experiments that are more audacious and scrappy.

As innovation practitioners, we love talking experiments. If you’d like to discuss how you can design experiments to accelerate your innovation journey or learn more about any of the experiments in our Experiment Selector, please send an email to sanjay.sharma@whatifinnovation.com.