What is an experimenteur?

IMG_0928Well I’d like to claim that I made the word ‘experimenteur’ up, to be honest I thought I did, until I googled it!  As it happens it’s a french word which translates as ‘experimenter’. I can just imagine your look of awe.  Despite my lack of linguistic awareness, let me get onto why I created what I thought was a brilliant new word.  Why bother with a new word when entrepreneur, innovator and intrapreneur seem to suffice?

The challenge as I see it is that these words convey a great deal of pressure around an outcome.  Want to call yourself an entrepreneur? You must have made a million bucks. Innovator – what did you invent that changed the world?  Intrapreneur (less fashionable I know) – how did you turn the company around?  These words tend to be outcome focused rather than process focused.  They are what someone calls you after you’ve achieved something.  They’re a lag descriptor not a lead descriptor.

Plenty of entrepreneurs put a lot of their success down to luck or more accurately, timing. Now admittedly they are downplaying their efforts, which have no doubt been significant. But what is it that’s intrinsic in the nature of an entrepreneur or innovator? No doubt many qualities; tenacity, vision, work ethic, creativity.  I’d add one more quality – inquisitive. Wanting to try something to see if it will work.  A desire to bring about some new knowledge, to do if differently. They love to experiment.

In my mind at least an experimenteur is a person who is always on the hunt for new knowledge.  They believe that life is a series of experiments, a lot of trial and error or more aptly as Buckminster Fuller put it ‘trial and error, error, error’.  The key to innovation is learning, not knowing, it is gaining & using new information through a series of experiments. Innovation is seldom borne from the most knowledgeable, but from the most inquisitive.

The key to innovation is learning, not knowing. It is gaining & using new information through a series of experiments. Innovation is seldom borne from the most knowledgeable, but from the most inquisitive.

Of course, you can gain new information by reading what others have done but in a workplace or in life putting it into action requires a leap of faith. From a scientific perspective it requires a ‘hypothesis’ or educated guess and then an experiment to prove your hypothesis correct or incorrect. It requires, action, it requires some doing and only in the doing comes the learning and the knowing. When it comes to being entrepreneurial Eric Reis in his book The Lean Startup identifies the rapid learning phase as a series of small experiments.   Each experiment aimed at continuously refining the most basic version of the product and testing it before scaling up.

How common is it to discover how common your choice of car is after you purchased it? Well, after registering experimenteur.com.au several years ago I started to see the word ‘experiment’ appearing in any reference to innovation or entrepreneur.  Success in life and business is a series of experiments.  So if this experimenting is so critical to innovation then why are we not focusing on experimenting?  Why do we not teach the basis of a good experiment and measure the number of experiments that our team/family are doing.

I can tell you why in business.  Asking someone to be innovative in a workplace sets them up for pressure to produce a successful outcome.  In a business, an outcome is a KPI and a KPI is a pressure point.  If you are measured on achieving a KPI and you risk your job if you do not achieve it – you aim low.  Business performance is often measured in quarterly cycles, so if your innovation is not up next quarter then you’re in strife.

Those that have brought about innovation in a workplace understand that good innovation is not linear. You do not see the need and draw a straight line from where you are to the solution. Eric Reis alludes to this. A true innovation often requires a series of experiments, tests, adjustments, tests, adjustments, where you end up is not linear and often not where you thought.

So let’s teach experimentation in the workplace.  You can encourage experimentation with virtually no risk at all.  You can build a culture of experimentation from the ground up and the top down.  Best of all you can build it in a positive and fun way within a business and you can measure the quantum of experimentation each day.  Remember, you are building cultural competency around experimentation – you’re not setting KPI’s for outcomes.  You are teaching an innovation and entrepreneurial mind-set using an action oriented behaviour.

Get started today

Encourage experimentation and what will your team learn?  They will learn how to innovate in a safe and supported environment.  They will also learn how to build a business case based on experience not just a best guess.  Here’s a simple way to implement it today – in your business and/or home:

  1. Identify a challenge/problem (start small – low risk)
  2. Identify what information is already known about solving it
  3. Try something that you don’t know will work to solve it.
  4. Analyse if it worked or not.  Either way, you are now in possession of the worlds most important resources, attainable by all – knowledge and experience. Remember trial and error, error, error.
  5. Bask in the glory of your new knowledge and perhaps your ‘micro-innovation’

We all have the capacity to be an experimenteur and in actual fact, you’re probably one already.  So go forth, experiment and one day, hopefully, at the end of a chain of error, error, errors will come your shining moment.  Perhaps you will be one to call yourself an entrepreneur or an innovator or perhaps you’ll just stick with ‘experimenteur’.  Perhaps you’ll be the face of the next Google or ‘mother of the year’.


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