All Life is an Experiment

Uncertainty is one thing that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Unfortunately, in most business situations, uncertainty is a fact of life.

Graham Hill made an interesting response to my post yesterday about simplistic, complex and simple models. He said:

The real world is complex . Most businesses simplify the complexity to ‘manage’ it. Complex is too hard!

The critical point to remember with models is that they are simply models. They simplify reality in order to give some order to chaos. But this simplification always leaves things out – and this can lead to problems.

How can we cope with the uncertainty caused by complexity without relying too much on oversimplification?

As Graham also pointed out, Dave Snowden’s method in complex, unknowable situations is to probe, sense, respond.

This may be an oversimplification, but my suggestion is to keep Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words in mind – and experiment:

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.

Conductivity experiment equipment.

Experimenting is a key innovation skill. It’s a way to substitute a bunch of small bets for one big bet.

All life is an experiment, and the more experiments you try, the better off you are. If you practice this idea, it makes it a bit easier to cope with uncertainty.

And remember that all of the models that we try aren’t actually real – they’re hypotheses. We are using them to test out ideas about how the world works. If the models don’t help us do that, it’s time to move on to a new model.

Every model that we build is an experiment too.

(picture from flickr/David July under a Creative Commons License)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “All Life is an Experiment

  1. Very interesting post. Agree that life is an experiment. But as with experiments, there are risks. Perhaps we need to take note that certain risks will bear a far higher opportunity cost. The cost may be dire if it impacts society. So experiments are not just a matter of trying a hypothesis without consequences. I like to experiment but under certain circumtances, I may want to reconsider the impact on me and other factors concerned.

    Nice post!

  2. I love that quote by Emerson, and try to live by it as much as possible (pun partially intended).

    I agree that models are simply models, and … well … all models are wrong (but some are useful).

    While I think that it is important to consider potential adverse consequences in designing experiments, I think that most of us tend to be too cautious about experimentation. Personally, I find that I learn far more from my mistakes than I do from my so-called successes (things that work out as I’d anticipated), though that learning sometimes comes at a considerable cost.

  3. It seems to me that when we live with the thought that “life is an experiment” we are better able to cope with what we get. In experiments, everything we do is a lesson or feedback. Knowing this, we can simply adjust our course and continue moving toward our goal.

    Nothing is “wrong”, it is simple a course adjustment if we don’t get the outcome we desire.

    Sure frees me up to be more creative and have more experiences.

    To Your Success,