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Why businesses need to replace best practice with experimentation

12 March 2021|Business Growth, Latest Posts, Launching a business, Psychology

Why businesses need to replace best practice with experimentation
Why businesses need to replace best practice with experimentation

By Alan Cooper, Co-Founder, FreestyleThis year has seen an acceleration when it comes to pace of change, driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. Large corporations can no longer solely rely on the data they’ve gleaned over the years when it comes to developing their business proposition because year-on-year data will no longer be as relevant or reliable. 2020 has shaken up the business world on a global scale – from start-ups through to established organisations. But that doesn’t mean that the notion of best practice has disappeared – there’s still a right way to do things and a good way to do things – it’s simply a case that there are now more ways to do things. For entrepreneurs and founders operating in an uncertain marketplace, the mindset of businesses now needs to be ‘let’s try something new’. 

Yet it can be argued that it’s almost circumstantial that the pandemic has happened this year and triggered a more agile way of working. Why? For the last few years there has certainly been a shift towards businesses being more experimental in their approach thanks to the rise of ‘the disruptors’. These disruptors can be entrepreneurs, start-ups or well established businesses with one thing in common – offering a fresh, new approach to the way an existing service or product is operating. Recognising this, large corporations have allocated budget and manpower into innovation in a bid to maintain their position as leaders in their industry or sector. 

Why we should embrace ‘freedom to fail’

The creation of a smart heating thermostat by Hive is a great example of a company that innovated from within. A specially selected team were put together to work from a central London office, completely detached from the British Gas ‘mothership’, with a start-up ethos. According to Seb Chakraborty, Hive’s chief technology officer: “One of the things about development and design is not to be frightened to throw it away, even when it works”. After creating the first thermostat model allowing the remote control of heating and hot water – the team didn’t stop there. The concept was innovated further into a multi-product app incorporating control of lighting and appliances. 

By adopting a ‘freedom to fail’ approach – putting trust in the team to be measured by ideas rather than results – they allowed for creativity to flow, resulting in an innovative tech-based heating solution. Perhaps not what you would expect from a long serving energy company.

Why we should experiment more

If we have learnt anything from this year it’s that we can adapt at speed. So proposition development needs to be more fluid. 

Experimentation in its truest form needs to be agnostic of technology and practices. Entrepreneurs need to adopt whatever methodologies or frameworks work best for the culture of the business – ideally letting the experimental team find out what is going to work best for them. Whether that’s setting up a new internal department, or by setting aside a percentage of time each week or month dedicated to experimentation across departments. And make sure there is a separate budget put aside that doesn’t impact the wider business.

Changing the business mindset

There needs to be freedom to experiment without boundaries otherwise it is simply a case of doing what you were doing before…just a little bit differently. So often businesses have the view of “this is how we do things and this is how we will always do them”. If teams are given more control over when, where, and how they work then this will help boost creativity. There needs to be a relationship of trust to motivate people. People will come up with amazing things if they feel psychologically safe to do so.

Don’t get wedded to one idea, try out multiple propositions and be honest with what works and what doesn’t. There needs to be an understanding that ‘freedom to fail’ is an acceptable part of the development process. And this is not what is determining whether the project was a success or not. Just because we don’t hear about the projects that never quite got there, it doesn’t mean they’re not a crucial part of the process. It’s about accepting a ‘purpose over profit’ approach.

Consider investing in ‘worthwhile projects’ which are seen as beneficial beyond the business portfolio. 

To create meaningful impact, think of the company’s values, then the social impact angle that aligns with your mission and how you could support it. For example, could you create a platform to encourage, educate or inspire people to manage a health condition prevalent among your target audience? How about tracking running miles to offer company benefits such as a donation to charity? 

‘Tech for good’ is a great example of the purpose over profit’ approach, with technology used to improve social challenges with the added bonus of the feel good factor for all involved as well as all those who benefit from it. It’s a case of investment into the customer experience, brand perception and internal development rather than shareholder return.

It’s not just about what customers want

All in all, best practice is still relevant when it comes to proposition development. But try digging a bit deeper into customer research and segmentation. It’s not simply a case of finding out what your customers need and want anymore – it’s about finding out what they want and don’t necessarily need, and what they need and don’t necessarily want.

In terms of advice, it’s important to identify what the desired outcomes for your business are, workshop possible solutions, and then narrow the field until the number of choices feels right for your scale of business. Then ideate, prioritise and follow the best ideas through to the experimentation stage and always measure against outcomes.

About the Author

Alan Cooper Founder of Freestyle
Alan Cooper Founder of Freestyle

Alan Cooper founded Freestyle 25 years ago, having previously run his own video production company after an initial career in advertising planning.
Freestyle has evolved from production company to agency and now to Digital Product Studio, with Alan taking the lead role in growing the business and developing new relationships. He has been pivotal in the digital evolution of B2B and B2C brands like Bostik, Caravan and Motorhome Club, Arriva and Jaguar Land-Rover. As an early visionary in the world of Digital Asset Management, he set about creating Freestyle Partners, an award-winning Digital Asset Management platform utilised by names like Marston’s, Alstom and GE.
“I love understanding difficult, complex challenges and solving them with smart technology; delivering digital solutions in a human fashion without jargon.”