Experiment: A Formula to Achieve Success

In A Simple Guide to Finding Good Ideas I wrote that to find good ideas you should produce a lot of ideas. You can get quality out of quantity.

I recently realized that similar principle also applies to finding success in life. While to find good ideas you should produce a lot of ideas, to find success you should do a lot of experiments.

This quote by Thomas J. Watson now makes perfect sense to me:

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.

What this quote means is that you should increase your rate of experiments. Many of your experiments will fail, but some of them will work and a few will work very well. It’s just like finding good ideas: the more ideas you have the more likely you will find good ones.

But you might wonder: what about focus? Doesn’t doing a lot of experiments means that you don’t focus?

Of course, focus is necessary. Without focus you won’t achieve anything valuable. But focus alone is not enough. You need to balance it with diversity. Focus without diversity will make it difficult for you to adapt to changing environment. Even worse, you might later realize that you focus on the wrong things. Everything you achieve may become obsolete when the environment changes.

There is a good way to balance focus and diversity. This is also a good way to achieve success:

Do a lot of experiments. Strengthen the winners.

This principle balances focus and diversity. You allocate a lot of resources to the winners (focus), but you also allocate some resources to many experiments (diversity).

Here are some tips to apply this principle:

1. Have side projects

Having side projects is the best way to increase your rate of experiments. Since you have a main project you can count on (such as your day job), you can freely try new ideas in your side projects. Later one of the side projects could become your main project.

2. Set an experiment quota

How many experiments do you want to do in a certain period of time? Setting a quota helps you keep experimenting. Thomas Edison is a good example here. He had a clear quota for his experiments: one small invention every 10 days and one major invention every six months.

3. Shorten your feedback cycle

To increase your rate of experiments, you should quickly get feedback on what you do. The sooner you get the feedback, the sooner you can make necessary improvements.

That’s why it’s important that you test your idea in the real world as soon as possible. Don’t wait until something is perfect before you release it to the real world. You can make better improvements through the feedback you get than through planning.

4. Diversify

It’s risky if all your experiments are similar in nature. While they may work in the short term, they could fail to adapt and become obsolete in the long term. Diversity ensures that at least some of your experiments will survive. Regularly try something different and fresh.

5. Allocate more resources for the winners

Of all your experiments, there will be some that are promising and some that aren’t. The better something performs, the more resources you should allocate for it. You should keep giving it more resources until you reach the point of diminishing returns. This way you take it to its fullest potential.

***

What experiments have you done lately? Increase your rate of experiments and strengthen the winners.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

9 Comments

  1. Great article!

    I would suggest keeping a journal, to record all the great new distinctions we will make with these experiments.

    Keep up the great work.

    Love all the great resources you provide!

    Respectfully,
    Paul Castain
    Consolidated Graphics

  2. Cyndi Castronuevo
    Cyndi Castronuevo

    This is so cool!
    Your articles are informative and I find them quite helpful. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  3. I completely agree with what’s written here. Experiments are a great way to learn and generate ideas! Thanks for the tip.

  4. Paul,
    You’re right, keeping a journal is essential. What’s the point of doing a lot of experiments if you make the same mistakes again and again?

    Cyndi,
    Thanks for the kind words!

    Positively Present,
    Yes, they are. Let’s experiment more 🙂

  5. Thank you for affirming what others call my tendency to get too scattered 🙂 Actually, there is wisdom in focus, but it’s also good to systematically brainstorm, as you stated. One of the ways to do this is to write, at the top of a piece of paper: How can I increase my value to others today, resulting in passive income? Then write the first 20 ideas that come to mind. After you are done, you can then evaluate and start experimenting. I got this idea from Earl Nightingale, in his audio program, Lead the Field.

  6. Steve,
    That’s a good idea, thanks for sharing it.

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