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On Encouraging Business Experimentation

In innovation, many companies still seem to stick with the first idea they have for a new technology. This keeps happening despite all the research and anecdotes that often, one’s first instinct for a technology is the wrong one. For example, “Chemcor,” developed in the late 50′s for “phone booths, prison windows, and eyeglasses“, was shelved for decades until it became ubiquitous in iPhones.

Some of this lack of change is attributed to how projects get approved. Often the research scientist who came up with the idea must submit an application of said idea in order to get funded. (The logic behind the scientist needing to find the application rather than, say, a marketer is an entire other blog topic). Informing his/her superiors of change could be seen as a sign that the project is failing. (Credit to Session 314 on Entrepreneurial Opportunities for inspiring much of this blog).

But there still seems to be a lack of tolerance in many (but not all) businesses for experimentation. Trying multiple possibilities when just one would do is seen as wasteful. And indeed, sometimes we see the same issues in our classes. Students seem distrustful of classroom experimentation, seeing it as busywork or as a sign that the instructor is not fully prepared.

Is it fair to say that experimentation is a bad word in business circles? And if so, what can be done to convince business people of all ages that experimentation is beneficial?

Post originally appeared on Academy of Management blog site.

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