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What my failed experiment with iPad mini shows about innovation

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I started an experiment with the new iPad mini last week, and this morning, after seven days, I decided that it wasn’t going to work as a replacement for my Macbook Air. I also learned that there is simply no way that I could use an iPad, mini or other size, to replace a cell phone.

The specifics aren’t that important for the points I want to make here, but you can read the posts I wrote at stoweboyd.com if you’d like the details (see First Post From My iPad Mini Using The Logitech Mini Ultra Thin Keyboard Cover and iPad mini Experiment: No Way, José). Suffice it to say that — even with a really responsive and usable keyboard (the Logitech mini Ultralight Keyboard Cover), there are just too many things that don’t work right so my productivity — when I tried to use it for the past few days — was just abysmal.

ipad mini

I think what I learned in this experiment is that an employee who wants to try out a new gizmo to potentially replace an existing one has an obligation to do what I did: run an experiment, and try to fail fast and fail forward. And to generalize, this also talks to the idea of trying out any sort of hypothetical improvement in our work activities.

John Maxwell, in his book Failing Forward, states that if we want to achieve, we need to change the way we think about failure. If we unwind the historical and social opprobrium tied to ‘failure’ then it is just a source of information. It is now a commonplace to say that no failure is a failure unless you fail to learn from it.

And in this case, I structured the test as an experiment, with little or no personal identification with the presumed outcomes: I had a healthy (I think) skepticism that this set-up would work, but I thought it would be interesting if it actually did.

And then, I didn’t let the experiment go on too long before I declared an end to it. When it became clear that several key aspects of my day-to-day work activities would be difficult and much more time-consuming than on my Air — along with the slow learning curve of training my hands to use the screen of the iPad instead of a touchpad — I decided to end it: failing fast.

Relative to BYOD, I think people should set a narrow timeframe to fool with a device, to see if it is going to work. This should be at first on solitary activities, and later on, touching on interactions with others. Others should be informed that you are experimenting, and therefore things might take longer than usual. But most importantly, by saying it’s an experiment you can diminish the emotional connection to a decision: no decision has been made, it’s an experiment!

And relative to innovation in business operations — like changing the tools we use in HR, customer support, marketing, or sales — the same principles should apply. Set up an experiment to see how well a new tool might improve things in some domain of work, set a time limit, publish results along the way, and if and when it becomes clear it won’t work, can it, and share what you’ve learned with others.

After all improvements only come from experiments, and it none of your experiments ever fail, you aren’t trying hard enough to improve the world.