Innovation requires experimentation

I wish I had known about Clayton Christensen’s research on living overseas as one of the three ways of exploring how innovation requires experimentation.  It certainly would have contributed to my success by increasing my capacity for innovation, before I relocated to the Middle East for six years!

“In fact, the more countries someone lives in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes or businesses. Individuals who live in a foreign country for at least 3 months are 35% more likely to start an innovative venture or invent a product.
Moreover, if managers try at least one international assignment before becoming CEO, their companies deliver stronger financial results than companies run by CEO’s without such experience, roughly 7 % higher market performance on average.”

As I moved closer to my relocation, this time, to Melbourne, Australia, I appreciated how living in another country was a useful and valuable experience for generating new business ideas. How the diversity and depth of experience boosted my creativity and increased my courage and ability to adapt. It also boosted my inventiveness and capacity for innovation,  ultimately enabling me to live a more authentic and compassionate life.

It was a transformational experience involving actively observing, exploring and experimenting within a VUCA environment of constant change, turbulence, and chaos. Causing me to query that perhaps this is also the ‘new status quo’ that is challenging twenty-first-century organizations to adapt to, innovate within.  If they truly want to grow, flourish and thrive!

Why innovation requires experimentation 

Whilst the average manager and leader may not yet fully appreciate the role of experimentation in innovation, it is widely accepted, that there is no innovation without experimentation.

This is because experimentation unlocks, through understanding the role of cause and effect, trial and error and field trials, the capacity for innovation.

Yet many of us don’t know how to embrace the range of failures that experimentation involves as we cycle through these roles. Also, many of us, habitually and myopically focus on analyzing and sequencing ideas and solutions rather than testing, learning and iterating and pivoting from failures. Focussing instead, towards delivering quick short term results that don’t allow us the time required to generate the data on what might work in the future as we search for new creative ideas and innovative solutions. Rather than acknowledging that innovation requires experimentation.

People’s fears of failure and risk adversity also inhibit them from experimenting. Few organizations have adaptive and agile cultures or the capacity for innovation to support them to safely ‘fail fast to learn quickly’.

These are just two of the key factors that keep people stuck in the conventional thinking box and inhibit innovators from generating passionate engagement required to see creative ideas through to the delivery phase. It also means that critical data, on what works and what doesn’t work, is not captured and applied towards making improvements. This inhibits innovators from shaping revolutionary business ideas, developing pragmatic solutions, new business models, piece by piece, as experimentation requires.

Power of emergent, divergent, and convergent thinking 

The diversity of experience involved in creating ImagineNation, as a generative and provocative innovation training company, in a radically different survival and scarcity based Middle Eastern culture, helped hone my emergent, divergent and convergent thinking skills.

Which then enhanced my associative thinking abilities, developed from my years in the fashion and lifestyle industries. This enabled me to see the patterns and make surprising connections across innovation management, continuous improvement, lean and agile methodologies with corporate learning, and start-up entrepreneurship.

I then experimented and develope three innovative corporate learning prototypes, which I then tested (and failed), iterated, pivoted and validated, over the ensuing years. At the same time, experiencing first hand, the cognitive, emotional and visceral roller coaster that innovators and start-up entrepreneurs go through, to build their capacity for innovation, by inventing and realizing something that may not have previously existed.

Boosting your potential for innovation

If you want to boost your own, or your people’s potential for innovation through experimentation, Clayton Christensen suggests three ways;

1. Try out new experiences through exploration such as living in a different country, working in multiple industries or developing a new skill.
2. Take apart products, processes, and ideas.
3. Test ideas through pilots and prototypes.

Experimenting to make brilliant blunders

As innovation requires experimentation, as you courageously and compassionately experiment with these, notice how you experience your unique set of perfectionistic behaviors, your inherent risk adversity, or your own fears of failure. Be willing to take personal responsibility and self-regulate and manage the impact of these factors, on your capacity for innovation.

Take heed of what Mario Livio, an astrophysicist, with the Hubble Program at the Science Institute, in his book ‘Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe’ says about making mistakes;

There are 2 types of mistakes people make;

Sloppy or thoughtless mistakes.
– Thinking outside of the box, or challenging convention mistakes.

He suggests that these mistakes sometimes result in what he calls ‘blunders’ and that blunders have the potential to enable us to take calculated risks, where we might fail. Paradoxically they also provide us with opportunities to experiment to uncover great rewards!

He uses the term ‘brilliant blunders’ and suggests that they are the portals to great discoveries and disruptive innovations!

Now that you are aware that innovation requires experimentation, make sure to play with the idea, and have fun, frustration, and challenge the status quo and make innovation a habit.

By exploring what it means to improvise and experiment in your business practice and enjoy making some brilliant blunders of your own!

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.