Introduction

I’ve got a story for you that might just change the game on how you think about business. It’s all about that “E” word—I’m talking about Experimentation. Listen, I almost flushed my first startup down the drain like last night’s takeout because I was too darn scared to experiment.

Picture this. A young, starry-eyed me, clutching a business plan in one hand and a crumpled dollar bill in the other. I had this killer idea, man. But, my God, I was treating that business plan like it was inscribed by the Oracle of Delphi herself. Every decision had to align with it. I felt that if I diverted even an inch, the startup gods would curse me to an eternity of obscurity. Boy, was I wrong.

You know what saved my rear end? Experimentation. We started small, tinkering with stuff like the user interface, pricing models, even the damn color of the “Buy Now!” button. It was like stepping into a different world, like a kid opening a Lego set for the first time. All these pieces you never thought would work together suddenly making this beautiful, functional… thing.

So, let’s clean house, folks! I’m not talking about Marie Kondo-ing your apartment—that’s on you—but rather, it’s time to tidy up your mental attic. We’ve got to make room for some legit innovation here. If your mind is cluttered with myths and false ideas about experimentation, you’re basically running on a hamster wheel. Going fast, but going nowhere, capiche?

Bottom line: If you’re not running experiments in your business, you’re basically setting yourself up to be the guy who insists Betamax is going to beat VHS. The idea here is simple: we’re going to debunk some of the most BS myths you’ve probably heard or felt about experimentation in the business landscape. And let me tell you, some of these myths are as persistent as a pop-up ad in a shady website.

I’m all about that tough love, so don’t expect any sugarcoating. This is real talk. We’re going to explore why these myths are just straight-up nonsense, and how you can use experimentation to punch stagnation in the face. So put your thinking caps on and keep your eyes peeled. We’re about to dive headfirst into the kiddy pool of wisdom, and y’all better be ready to make a splash.

Myth 1: “Who Needs Experiments When You’ve Got a Gut Feeling?”

Ah, the mystical gut feeling—the idea that you can just sense the right move. You’ve seen it in movies, maybe even heard about it from some corporate hotshot: “I don’t need data, I’ve got instincts.” To which I say, “Congrats, you’ve got a gut. So does my pet goldfish, and you don’t see him running a Fortune 500 company, do you?”

So let’s talk about that one CEO who walked around like he had a crystal ball in his back pocket. This dude was so convinced that his gut feeling was the secret sauce to all his successes. He’d say things like, “Why run experiments? They only stifle creativity!” Uh-huh, and sticking your head in the sand makes you invisible, right?

Oh, and don’t get me started on the classic ‘Steve Jobs never asked customers what they wanted’ argument. First off, if you’re Steve Jobs, you can get away with a lot of things. But guess what? You aren’t Steve Jobs, and neither am I. That’s like saying, “Well, Usain Bolt doesn’t need to stretch, so why should I?” Newsflash: we can’t all be outliers.

Time to wake up! Intuition isn’t the enemy of experimentation; they’re more like the dynamic duo of the business world. Think Lennon and McCartney, peanut butter and jelly, or heck, even Netflix and chill. They go together like two peas in a pod. Intuition can guide you towards what to experiment with, and experimentation can confirm or challenge your intuition. It’s not either-or; it’s a dialogue, a feedback loop.

Did you know that experts get things wrong all the time? They’re just better at explaining why they were wrong, and then they adjust. But intuition alone doesn’t give you that data-backed foundation to pivot when you need to. There’s a reason why we say, “I have a hunch,” and not, “I have a peer-reviewed journal article in my gut.”

And here’s a tidbit for you: Apple runs experiments. Yes, that Apple—the one founded by the guy who supposedly never cared what customers wanted. They’re constantly A/B testing, iterating, and innovating. Why? Because even visionaries need to check their blind spots.

So let’s put this myth to bed, shall we? Your gut can give you a good starting point, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s just one tool in your toolkit. Combine it with the scientific rigor of experimentation, and you’ve got yourself a potent cocktail of decision-making goodness. So, by all means, listen to your gut—but don’t let it drown out all the other valuable feedback the world has to offer.

Myth 2: “Go Big or Go Home, Right?”

Ah, the old “go big or go home” mantra, the catchphrase for every young-blood entrepreneur who thinks they’ve got to make a big, flashy change to get noticed. You hear it all the time, don’t you? It’s like business advice from a frat party, dressed up in a three-piece suit.

Let’s break it down. The idea that “bigger is better” is such a seductive fallacy. Why? Because it looks good on Instagram. Who wants to show off incremental changes when you can flex your brand new, game-changing innovation? I mean, you’re not gonna get many double-taps for a 1% increase in conversion rates, are you?

But here’s the rub: this attitude can set you up for some epic fails. Let’s talk about the risks of swinging for the fences, because, let’s face it, you can strike out big time. Remember New Coke? Thought so. Even the heavy hitters miss sometimes, and if you’ve got your brand, your reputation, and a boatload of money tied up in one massive shift, good luck figuring out what went sideways if it all blows up in your face.

Now, let’s get into the joys of incrementalism. It’s like scaling a building like Spider-Man—one step at a time, fully aware of each move, understanding what’s working and what’s not. It’s like CSI: Business Edition; you actually know what caused what. Incremental changes give you control, they’re manageable, and most importantly, you can actually figure out what worked and what didn’t. Plus, if something does go belly-up, it’s much easier to backtrack and find the hiccup than it would be if you just launched a rocket without checking if the parachute works.

Going big also has a darker side. You ever lit money on fire? Well, you’re doing that if you throw everything into one big change without testing smaller changes first. Massive undertakings take time, resources, and capital—three things you might not have in abundance. And if you bet it all on black and lose? Well, you’re up a creek without a paddle, my friend.

So, what’s the takeaway? Balance, folks. Like a well-prepared meal, you want a mix of incremental and radical. Yes, you should have those moments of going for the gold, but also embrace the “little victories.” Don’t forget, it’s often the tortoise that wins the race, not the hare. And in the business world, a steady climb can sometimes be more valuable than a quick sprint to nowhere.

Remember, you can aim for the stars but take it one rocket stage at a time. Incrementalism isn’t a lack of ambition; it’s strategic ambition. And if you’re not strategically ambitious in this day and age, you’re just playing the fool’s game.

Myth 3: “Netflix Runs How Many Experiments?! We Can’t Do That!”

Ever heard that Netflix runs hundreds of A/B tests a year and thought, “Holy smokes, how can my scrappy little team ever compete with that?” Well, hold your horses. That’s what I call the David vs. Goliath Syndrome. You feel like you’re this tiny mouse scurrying around the feet of digital titans like Netflix, Amazon, and Google. News flash: It’s a trap! Don’t fall for it.

First off, these tech giants weren’t always, well, giants. They started small, just like you. And guess what? They didn’t pop out of the womb running 200 experiments a year. No, they built up to it, learning as they went. Think you need to be the Netflix of your industry right out of the gate? Nah, you don’t. Being the State Farm of your industry ain’t too shabby either. What I mean is, these smaller, steady companies can still get their slice of the pie, even if they’re not disrupting left and right.

What people often forget is that big tech companies have resources—like, tons of ’em. Teams dedicated solely to running experiments, complicated software, budgets that look like phone numbers. When you’re a lean operation, you don’t have those luxuries. But who says you need ’em? If you’re smart, nimble, and focused, you can still run meaningful tests without breaking the bank or burning out your team.

It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality. Imagine if you only have the resources for 10 experiments a year. Fine. Make those the best damn 10 experiments anyone’s ever seen. Think of them as your debut album. It’s better to have 10 hits than 50 flops. Because in the end, the market doesn’t care how many experiments you run; they care about how many of your experiments actually make a positive impact.

Now, let’s talk about the startup hustle, because it’s a real thing. If you’re a newer business, you’ve got your own set of advantages in the experiment game. You’re already lean, quick, and probably more willing to take risks than an established company. You might think Netflix is lightyears ahead of you, but remember—big ships turn slowly. In many ways, you can outmaneuver these giants just by being you.

So the next time you’re scrolling through your news feed and stumble across yet another article about how Netflix or Amazon is killing it with their experiments, don’t get down on yourself. Instead, think about the strategic moves you can make with what you’ve got. As the old saying goes, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” No excuses.

Myth 4: “My Small Team Can’t Run Experiments”

Ah, the classic small fish in a big pond situation. You’re running a boutique bakery or maybe a small design agency, and you’re like, “Experiments? Pssst, leave that for the big dogs. We’re not Google!” Ahem, let me tell you something—size doesn’t matter; it’s how you use it that counts.

You may not have the luxury of a dedicated team for data analysis and A/B testing, but don’t let that deter you. Even with a limited budget and team, you can still run meaningful experiments. Why? Because you’re nimble, baby! You can pivot on a dime, unlike the big corporations where every decision has to be cleared by three different committees.

Let’s tackle this data fallacy that’s been haunting you: Bigger is better. Nah, not true. If you’re a small business, you can collect data that’s just as meaningful as the big guys. In fact, when you’re smaller, the data can often be cleaner. You’re not getting all this extraneous noise that you then have to filter out. Think of it as cooking in a smaller pot—you know exactly what’s in there, and you can taste every flavor.

And now, let’s chat about “small batch, big gains.” Picture yourself brewing artisanal coffee. You’re not going for mass production; you’re going for quality. The same applies to your experiments. Run small, targeted tests that focus on improving a single element of your business, be it customer engagement, web conversion rates, or something else. In doing so, you’ll glean insights that you can quickly apply, iterating on your business in real-time.

You know that approach of “let’s wing it”? Yeah, that still has its merits. But it’s not in opposition to experimentation; it’s part of it. Those hunches, those educated guesses you make? They become the hypotheses for your experiments. You go ahead and test them out and—bam!—you’ve got data to inform your next move. The result? You’re making decisions based on insights, not just instinct.

And let’s talk about that big, looming Amazon in the room. Look, digital giants may have all the data, algorithms, and complex experiments, but they also have their own share of headaches—bureaucracy, slow decision-making, and so on. Meanwhile, you can stay agile, making quick pivots based on your findings, and potentially moving much faster than the giants you’re so concerned about.

So, the next time you think your small team can’t run experiments, kick that thought to the curb. You’re more than capable. You’ve got this gift of agility, a focused data set, and the power to make immediate changes. Don’t let your size fool you; when it comes to experimentation, you’ve got as much game as anyone else.

Myth 5: “Experimenting is Like Organized Guessing”

Alright, you tech-savvy mavericks, time to address another delusion: Experimenting is just organized guessing. You know, I’ve heard some folks compare it to playing darts in a bar—just aim and hope for the best. That’s like saying Formula 1 racing is like driving to the grocery store because both involve cars. Totally not the same ballpark, my friends.

Now, before you label me an experimental evangelist, let me say, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sure, you can do the experiment, but the outcome might surprise you. Where 1 + 1 doesn’t always equal 2. You might roll the dice and come up snake eyes, as in zero improvement or, heaven forbid, a dip in performance. That’s part of the game. You’re not here for a guaranteed jackpot; you’re here to learn, iterate, and grow.

Let’s get something straight—experimenting testing is scientific. You start with a hypothesis, you test it, you analyze the results, and you draw a conclusion. It’s not guesswork; it’s structured. But here’s the kicker: Not all experiments are born equal. A well-designed test is more than just flipping a switch and watching what happens. There are best practices, protocols, and analytical methods that need to be followed to ensure you get accurate and meaningful results.

Okay, so maybe you’re not sold yet. You think breathing isn’t profitable either, so why bother? Well, look, just because you can’t directly quantify something doesn’t mean it lacks value. Breathing is what keeps you alive to run your business, to make those tough calls, to be the kickass entrepreneur you are. Similarly, experiments, while not directly pumping dollars into your account, set the stage for your future growth. It’s like laying down the tracks for the money train you’re building.

And for the skeptics rolling their eyes—yes, I see you—let’s talk about long-term gains. You run an experiment and learn something new. Even if the immediate payoff isn’t huge, that knowledge doesn’t expire. It’s a building block for your next campaign, your next product launch, your next anything! So, you’re not just throwing darts; you’re building a strategic arsenal of insights that will serve you in the long run.

Think of it this way: Not doing experiments because you think they’re just guessing games is like refusing to go to the gym because you don’t see results after one visit. In both cases, the payoff is cumulative. And guess what? The more you learn from each test, the better your “guesses” become. They evolve into educated strategies backed by solid data.

Myth 6: “We’ve Got Data, Who Needs Causality?”

If you’ve heard this one before, join the club. It’s like data is the new snake oil, a cure-all for all your business ailments. Some execs treat data like the answer to life, the universe, and everything. No joke, I’ve met people who think just by collecting data, they’ve achieved some nirvana of business intelligence. Uh, no, that’s not how this works.

First of all, let’s not get it twisted. Data is your friend, no doubt about it. It’s those crunchy numbers and sweet insights that help you make informed decisions. But—and it’s a big ‘but’—data isn’t always what it seems. This is where our buddy Causality comes into play.

Why does causality matter? Well, let’s put it this way: knowing that every time you wear your lucky underwear your team wins doesn’t mean your undies are magical. It’s fun to think so, but let’s get real. That’s correlation, not causation. Your tighty-whities didn’t score the winning touchdown. It’s the same with business. Just because your sales spike on days when you tweet more doesn’t mean tweeting more causes higher sales. Correlation is like that guy at the party who takes credit for the awesome playlist when all he did was show up. Don’t let correlation steal causality’s thunder!

Alright, let’s break it down further. Imagine you launch a new marketing campaign, and boom, your sales go through the roof. Naturally, you’d think, “Hell, that campaign is the reason for the spike.” Well, slow your roll, hotshot. What if it was payday for most people, or maybe a holiday was around the corner? Unless you factor in these variables, claiming that the campaign alone led to higher sales is like saying dancing causes rain.

Here’s another zinger: Big data can be like a bad wingman. Sure, he’s got all this info, and he’s eager to share, but can you trust him? Is he giving you what you need to succeed, or is he just tossing numbers and facts your way, leaving you to make what you will of them? The point is, having lots of data doesn’t mean you automatically know what’s causing what.

It all boils down to this: Data without understanding causality is like a compass without a needle. It looks impressive, but it’s not going to help you navigate through the complexities of business decisions. You need to play the causality card; it’s the real MVP. It helps you move from reactive decisions based on mere correlations to proactive strategies rooted in actual cause-and-effect relationships.

Myth 7: “It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness”

Oh boy, this one’s the ethics rollercoaster that no one seems to want to talk about. It’s like the wild west of the business world. Some people think, “Hey, let’s do whatever the heck we want, and if it turns sideways, we’ll just say sorry and move on.” Nope, not gonna fly. Let’s chop this myth down to size, shall we?

First off, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Seriously, this is the adult world; we’re not kids sneaking cookies from the jar anymore. In business, the stakes are higher. You’ve got laws, regulations, not to mention public opinion, which can be a bear to deal with if you get it wrong. So, if you think playing fast and loose with rules or ethics is a shortcut to success, think again. You may not get caught today or tomorrow, but when (not if) you do, the damage to your reputation can be catastrophic.

Alright, let’s say you’ve got a killer idea for a product or an experiment. You know there might be some red tape, but you’re impatient. You think, “Ah, let’s just wing it!” Here’s the kicker: by the time you’re asking for forgiveness, it’s already too late. You’re not just jeopardizing your own gig; you’re putting your team, your investors, and even your customers at risk. That’s not the maverick move you think it is; it’s recklessness dressed up as daring.

Take a moment and think about the big picture. Innovate, sure, but do it ethically. If you’re in a situation where you think you can outsmart the system, chances are you’re not the first one to have that thought. Regulations exist for a reason; they set the ground rules so that the playing field is even and above board. If you think you’re an exception to the rule, I hate to break it to you—you’re not.

Look, it’s not all doom and gloom. The point is, toeing the ethical line isn’t just good karma, it’s smart business. In the age of social media, transparency is not a choice; it’s a requirement. The days of sweeping things under the rug are long gone. Now, one viral tweet can either propel you to stardom or drag you into the abyss. Do you really want to play Russian roulette with your business?

Let’s wrap it up. If you’re tempted to just “ask for forgiveness” in your business practices, hit the brakes. Rethink, recalibrate, and then proceed with caution. Your reputation is too valuable to gamble with, and the trust of your customers is not a renewable resource. Innovate or die, sure, but let’s make sure it’s ethical innovation, alright?

Conclusion

Alright, if you’ve made it this far, congrats—you’re either really into business experiments or you’ve got some serious time on your hands. Either way, let’s wrap this up with a big bow.

We’ve navigated the minefield of common traps in business experimentation, from treating gut feelings like gospel to pretending your small business can’t hustle in the big leagues. And remember, the point isn’t to throw shade on instinct or ambition. Nope, it’s about being smart. It’s about realizing that you’ve got more tools at your disposal than you might have thought. Intuition and data are not mutually exclusive; they’re the dynamic duo you didn’t know you needed.

Now, let’s talk about the way forward. I hate to sound like your high school coach, but the key to winning the game is balance, friends! There’s a time and place for swinging for the fences, but don’t overlook the incremental gains you can make by simply moving the needle. And seriously, don’t underestimate the power of being small but steady. In a world chasing viral hits, your consistent quality could be your secret sauce.

Above all, be bold but be ethical. Asking for forgiveness might work for some life blunders, but it’s not a reliable strategy for business innovation. I can’t stress this enough: what you’re building is not just a money-making machine; it’s a legacy. It’s what people will remember you by, so make sure you’re not the headline of the next social media scandal, alright?

So, there you have it. We’ve kicked some myths to the curb, cleared the air, and hopefully, set you on a path for smarter, more effective business experimentation. And if you’re wondering if there’s a secret sauce, a magic bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution, well, you’re kinda missing the point. The world is nuanced, messy, and delightfully unpredictable, which makes the journey all the more exciting.

Final thoughts? Be smart, be bold, and for heaven’s sake, experiment! Because at the end of the day, the biggest risk in business isn’t making a mistake; it’s never daring to make one.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.