Turn Experiences Into Experiments

And Other Thoughts On Failure

I am a BIG fan of experimentation.

I don’t necessarily mean with drugs (unless that’s your kind of thing).

I’m talking about the scientific kind where you form a hypothesis, test it, and adapt based on the results.

The funny thing is I wasn’t always this fond of this process. Growing up, I worked in my father’s research lab where his team conducted countless experiments at Washington University in St. Louis.

I hated it.

At that point, I was too young and impatient to internalize the problems they were solving. I was just sick and tired of filling endless trays with countless rows of plastic pipettes.

Looking back, I could have learned so much more about failure and patience. After all, to scientists, there is at least one fundamental truth:

An experiment isn’t a failure if you learn from it.

In my wise old age of 29, I now realize we could all benefit from this way of thinking.

I have come across too many people who are so paralyzed by fear, they complacently settle for less. I was once in the same boat, sacrificing progress for perfection.

After much trial-and-error, I have learned the true value of turning experiences into experiments.

Let’s take a look at what this looks like in real life.

Example 1: Writing and publishing your first book.

Since this is a goal many people have and few accomplish, the odds are already stacked against you. Most people start strong, only to lose steam thanks to other priorities getting in the way. Instead of falling into the same inevitable trap, consider releasing the first chapter as soon as you write it. Not only will it give you much-needed momentum; you will receive invaluable feedback that will make the final product even stronger. If you want to take it a step further, allow others to contribute once you’ve released the first version.

Example 2: Launching a web or mobile app.

These days, there truly is an app for everything. In fact, there are dozens of apps that each accomplish the same task. In order to cut through the noise and provide real value to users, it’s important to test your assumptions BEFORE spending time, money, and energy on a developing a full app. Instead, spend a fraction of that time designing, building, and testing a prototype. This functional mock-up will allow you to receive feedback from users without writing a single line of code. Once you have validated (i.e. proven) a certain set of features with potential users, you can confidently move forward with developing and launching the actual app.

Example 3: Starting your own business.

No matter what age you are, there is a good chance you feel unfulfilled at your current job. You feel unappreciated and are confident that you could do a better job on your own. Before completely jumping ship, it’s a good idea to test the waters by getting your first client or customer. After all, it’s not a real business until you have revenue coming in. Share your new endeavor with your existing network and be specific with the type of work you’re looking for.

As you may have already guessed, these experiments have a few important things in common:

  1. Sharing something with others — An experiment is most helpful when creating something you plan on sharing with others. It allows you to test your project with a smaller group of people in a lower-pressure environment.
  2. Testing with real people — Not that your friends and family aren’t real; it’s just they are less likely to give you objective feedback in order to make your project better. The best experiments include testing with a sample of people from your intended group of users.
  3. Iterating based on feedback — The whole point of the experiment is to test a hypothesis. In the above examples, your hypothesis will most likely be: “If I write a book about x / create an app that does y, then people in z group will want to read/use it.” After you conduct your experiment, you will receive feedback that will tell you either to continue full steam ahead or course-correct. Either way, this will make the final product that much better.
  4. Saving time and money — Each of these scenarios allows you to save time and money by testing the waters first. No one wants to waste precious resources on something no one actually wants. The best way to avoid this is to show work early and often.

If you’re not used to the experimentation mindset, it can be a little daunting at first. Being vulnerable is never easy and it takes practice to eventually detach yourself from your work.

Once you are able to objectively share your work with others, you’ll be surprised at how fast you make progress. Even if you eventually end your project, you will have valuable insight to take with you into the future.

Are you ready to turn your experience into an experiment?

How do you currently deal with failure? Have you tried turning your experiences into experiments instead? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter at @williamfrazr.

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Billy Frazier

Billy Frazier

Billy Frazier is a writer and consultant who helps creatives and non-coders answer the question, “How the heck do you get into tech?” www.billyfrazier.is

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