Experimenting by learning new skills, taking things apart, and running pilots or creating prototypes is a key behavior of successful innovators. How can you become a better experimenter?
- The fourth behavior that's really helpful for triggering new ideas, is what we call experimenting. Now they're actually three different dimensions to experimenting I want to talk about. The first is just seeking new experiences, and that includes learning new skills. Steve Jobs talks about learning calligraphy in college. Actually, he didn't learn it in college, he dropped out. He just decided to drop in on the classes, 'cause he thought it was interesting. He said, "I didn't think there was any hope "that this would have any practical application in my life." He said, "And then, 10 years later, "we're designing the Macintosh computer." He said, "That calligraphy all came back to me "and we decided to design it all into the Mac." And, it was the first computer with beautiful typography, and was an important differentiator for the Macintosh versus the IBM PC.
You can also experiment by taking things apart and putting things back together. Michael Dell really hit on the idea for the Dell business model, by taking apart his computer, putting it back together, figuring out what all those components cost, and realizing that he could create customized computers for much lower costs than what IBM was producing, in computers that were on the shelves of stores. The last way to experiment is the sort of typical way we think about it, is let's run a pilot.
Let's create a prototype, let's run the experiment. This is what Jenn Hyman did when she decided to test her idea that women might want to rent designer dresses over the internet. What she did was she set up actually a house on Harvard Business School before a student event and she decided she would try and rent designer dresses. And, she borrowed as many as she could get and just went to see whether young women would rent designer dresses.
And, in this case, they could actually see them, and try them on. She found that she had a very positive response to renting designer dresses. Now she asks herself, "Well, what would happen "if you can't see them and try them on?" She sets an experiment up in New York City. She targets 1,000 women. She sends, she creates a very crude website with just photos of the dresses and she asks whether they would like to rent a dress for their next important event.
She gets 5% of the women to rent the dresses, and she now realizes this is a business model that will work. The experiment has taught her that women will rent designer dresses even if they're renting them over the internet. During this experiment, she learns they often want two sizes to make sure they have the right size, but that works out fine. Six years later, at President Obama's second inauguration, 85% of the women are there wearing a designer dress rented from Rent The Runway.
She uses this experiment to test and validate this idea. I had the opportunity to talk with Jeff Bezos about experimenting. He was one of the best experimenters that we studied in our Innovator's DNA study. In fact, he loves to say, "Let's run the experiment." He told us, "We have tried to move from running, "like hundreds of experiments, "to thousands of experiments at Amazon, "because if we can run fast and frugal experiments, "we can test a lot more new ideas in the marketplace." If you've notice, Amazon continues to come out with just a variety of new things from Amazon Video, to Amazon Music, to Amazon Echo, Alexa, Prime, Fresh Food, all of this stuff, and it's like, how do they come up with so many new things? He said the answer is they run lots and lots of experiments.
They call it their working backwards process, people will say, "Here's an experiment I'd like to try." They get the funding, and they let them do it. He said, "If you do the thousands of experiments, "that's how you come up with the Alexa is, "it's just one of lots of experiments, "and the more you do, the more likely you are "to hit on something that could be big. "That you maybe didn't realize "would be big at the beginning." As you think about learning, remember what Thomas Edison once said, he said, "I haven't failed, I've just found "10,000 ways that don't work." And sometimes, if you can follow that process of finding ways that don't work, you'll hit on one that will work, and can create a lot of value.