Viva, Experiments!

May 17, 2024

Viva, Experiments!

May 29, 2023

“To invent, you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment.” - Jeff Bezos, Amazon Annual Report, 2015

I was recently fortunate enough to give a couple of talks to the Institute of Coaching at Harvard and I was able to catch my friend and Harvard professor Amy Edmondson (who popularized the idea of “psychological safety” at work) give a talk on Intelligent Failures. She outlined three different kinds of failures - basic, complex, and intelligent - that are captured in her recent bestseller, “Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well,” and I came to realize there are three different ways you can innovate a new product.

The earliest kind of innovation is an experiment. You do your best to limit your risks in an experiment because as Jeff Bezos suggests, you have no idea whether it’s going to work out. To be honest, when we started MEA, we didn’t experiment with one-day workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area where my social network was located. We went straight to the second approach.

This second approach could be called a pilot, or at MEA, we called it our beta. In the first half of 2018, having hastily built a small beachfront campus in Baja, we ran 13 week-long workshops (with one being two weeks long) for, on average, a dozen people each, all for free. As my co-founder Jeff - who was a student in the very first one - can tell you, we made a huge amount of progress over the course of that half-year. 

Amy suggests that these are the questions you need to ask yourself to assure that your pilot is effective (she says “if the pilot fails, that’s a success” as you’ve learned something):

  1. Is the pilot being tested under typical circumstances?
  2. Is the goal of the pilot to learn as much as possible?
  3. Is it clear that compensation and performance reviews are not based on a successful outcome of the pilot?
  4. What explicit changes are made as a result of the pilot?

And, then, there’s the launch or roll-out. When it comes to our Ranch roll-out this week, we were fortunate to be able to test some of our systems based upon the 5-day workshop we offered at a next door retreat center last month and we got surprisingly remarkable reviews from our 20 guests which helped us to see that many of the things we do - the programming, the experiential elements, the menu, the curation of a cohort, the love and care, etc…. - have been honed over many years in Baja as a long on-going pilot. 

In sum, based upon our first workshop this week, we’re a work-in-progress but we have an enthusiastic cohort who are proud to be pioneers of this new campus. As David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO, says, remember to “Fail often in order to succeed sooner.” 

-Chip

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