How to embrace an experimental mindset

Experimental mindset

During our pilot programme, we met a young Powrsuiter who didn’t see herself as a leader. As a quiet twenty-something, she was sceptical of her ability to add value. Grateful and perplexed by the opportunity to join Powrsuit, she expected it to be a first step on the long path to leadership.

We disagreed. Instead, we suggested a simple action: over the next week, ask one question during a meeting. 

We know it sounds silly – what could one question change?

When we met again four weeks later, we immediately noticed a transformation. That one question had achieved two big results. Firstly, others in the room visibly appreciated the question, which provided evidence of her value. And because other people appreciated her input, they approached her more often.

This small experiment created a positive spiral that quickly led her and her colleagues to view her place in the team differently. 

But what if it hadn’t? Well, no harm done; it was just one question.

You can’t avoid failure

We’ve written before about learning by doing. It’s an approach we embrace wholeheartedly, but it often comes with an uncomfortable side effect. Things don’t always work out. Sometimes, they even fail spectacularly – you should have seen our first attempts at sales! 

We know the fear of failure can hold us back from achieving big things, but the impact is even more insidious. During our time at Hatch, we noticed a fascinating phenomenon. People were happy to pay $50 to attend an investing event but would flat-out refuse to invest that same $50. They were afraid they might lose the money, even when we pointed out that they would lose it anyway by paying for an event. 

Making the wrong investing decision would feel like a failure, but you can’t fail by attending an event, can you?

You can.

Success = learning

An experimental mindset means treating everything like a test. It’s about recognising that until you do something, you don’t actually know if it’s the best or right thing.

When you treat your actions like a test, the results become less important – getting results quickly is what counts. The goal is to save precious time, effort, and money by failing fast or finding out something works.

And yes, the theory applies to everything from first drafts to massive work programmes. It also applies to investing events. Why? We guarantee that if you want to be an investor, you won’t achieve that goal until you start investing. If attending an event takes you one step closer, consider the experiment a success. If, instead, it gives you a false sense of progress and traps you in the safety of endless learning? The experiment gets a big old fail.

It’s a simple, but robust process

An experimental mindset doesn’t mean throwing spaghetti at the wall; it requires the same (if not more) structure as your classic pick-and-stick-with-it approach. Here’s how we do it:

Step one: Define success

This step is critical. By getting clear on what you’re trying to achieve, you establish a target to go after. Success could be anything from getting promoted to getting comfortable with conflict, clearing space on your overloaded plate, addressing your procrastination habit or building a better relationship with your manager.  

Important! This step isn’t about defining a solution; it’s about being clear about the outcome you want to achieve. 

Step two: Test your hypothesis

Put your spaghetti away. You’re not plucking experiments from thin air; you’re using your knowledge and experience to make an educated guess. What action has the highest chance of taking you closer to your goal?  Your experiments should be two-way doors, something you can try, learn from and iterate on quickly. 

Remember that advice we gave a young leader about asking a question in a meeting? That wasn’t off the top of our heads. We knew from experience that speaking up is a relatively simple way to reposition how you’re perceived. We could have suggested other experiments, like putting her hand up for a strategic yes, identifying a superpower, or testing an elevator pitch. All of them would have had an impact, but our hypothesis was that this would offer the fastest value.

Once you’ve identified your experiment? Walk boldly through that two-way door and see what happens.

Step three: Reflect and iterate

So, you’ve tried something. Did it get you closer to where you wanted to go, further way, or no change? Remember, the result doesn’t really matter. An experimental mindset means not getting emotionally tied to being correct; it’s about learning whether something works.

Take this common example: you’re working on a first draft of a document, design, or plan. Usually, you’d polish it as much as possible, hoping to impress, but this time, you ask for feedback much earlier. The feedback isn’t positive. Where you might usually see this as a failure, you now view it as a shortcut. You’ve saved precious time and effort by learning and changing direction quickly.

Success or failure, it’s important to reflect on the results of your experiments. You’ll no doubt spot an invisible assumption, unintended side effect, or surprising outcome. And that’s the point. You’ve learned something; it’s time to apply that learning to your next experiment.

Take action

Pick a routine task (getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, travelling to work). Choose one thing to do differently – think timing or method.

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