Leaders Know How To Experiment

Gerwig 2015-09-14

Are you reluctant to try new things? Some of you go to the same restaurant each weekend and order the same item off the menu. It’s your favorite. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s something to be said for consistency. If you like it, you like it. And if the restaurant prepares it well and you enjoy it, life is good. Right? Remember “not all change equals an improvement.”

Yet, I want to briefly discuss the other side of the “consistency coin.” Experimentation is the other side. And just like true operational excellence comes from a combination of process control and improvement, achieving optimal results generally requires a combination of consistency and experimentation. Why experimentation? Because experimentation is where improvement is derived.

Improving your golf game requires consistency, but it likely requires adjustments to your swing as well. This combination of consistency and experimentation is the simple formula to optimal success. And it is applicable in everything from your golf game to on-time delivery to grades in school to recordable injuries to the preparation of dishes at your favorite restaurant.

While nearly everyone knows that consistency is a critical element of success, many overlook the importance of experimentation. Getting outside-the-box. Failing. Learning. Great leaders look broadly for ideas. They try things. They recognize failure is not uncommon on the path to improvement. They listen and try ideas, sometimes even crazy ones.

Recently, my wife and I got in the car and drove an hour to check out the White Horse Pub and Restaurant. It’s a bit out of our normal driving paths but we’d heard good things about it and decided to give it a try. It was worth it. We had a nice meal outside on the patio by the small creek. We enjoyed the food, the ambiance and the historical artifacts in the restaurant. The drive was pleasant and we were able to catch up on a few things while driving. It was a great way to spend the afternoon. We tried a new restaurant and it was a winner. The experiment paid off.

But sometimes it doesn’t turn out like that. Sometimes you try a new restaurant and you don’t like it. Sometimes the adjustment you made to your golf swing increases your score. Sometimes the process adjustment you make increases defects. Sometimes your experiment doesn’t yield the intended results. But don’t give up. It’s a learning experience.

One bit of advice, build your “experimental sandbox” carefully. If you’re testing out a new plastic component, run a limited trial with one customer. Don’t roll it out globally without testing. If you’re trying a new recipe at home, try it with immediate family members. Don’t try it for the first time when you have 15 people over for a dinner party. If you’re changing the new wall color in your family room, paint a little section and see how you like it. Don’t paint the entire room only to find out you really don’t like it.

You get the idea. Experiment and try new things, but be smart. There may be times when you don’t have a choice, when you have to take a big risk. But generally, you can experiment in a manner that limits risk exposure.

So, what kind of leader are you? Do you always play it safe? Or are you willing to experiment? Do you have a natural inclination toward doing things the same way or are you wired to experiment? Remember, both have their place. It’s “BOTH AND” not “EITHER OR.”

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.


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