How to Build an Experimental Mindset

Inez Hogarth
June 2021

Eight years ago, Dundee Contemporary Arts held an exhibition of Corita Kent’s works. Sister Kent gained international fame for her vibrant screen prints. In addition to being an amazing artist, illustrator, and educator, she ran an art department with ten rules. Whilst all ten rules are useful, rule four resonates greatly with our work. It states, “Consider everything an experiment". If you consider everything an experiment, then you have an experimental mindset.

 Experiments are fundamental to science but can achieve tangible results when applied in all fields, not least creative ones. At their core, experiments form a mindset which aims to learn how to be better. Not only is this a brilliant way to grow but it reframes the notions of right and wrong. Instead, actions are focused on gaining insight.

As part of our data audit offering, we explore what is required for a healthy data culture – engagement, resources, and meaningful data. Out of these three parts, engagement is the most important. You can have the best tools and data in the world but without an engaged team, they will not be fully utilised. A key step in building engagement with data is creating an experimental mindset.  

Here are Data Understood’s tips for building an experimental mindset in your organisation:

1) Value previous and current experiments

Loss aversion teaches us that losing something we value causes more pain than the satisfaction gained by acquiring something of an equivalent value. This is easy to see in children. Replacing a soft toy with an identical new toy doesn’t invoke the same reaction from the child. It doesn’t have the magic imbued through ownership, that feeling and quality associated with something you love. Listening and learning from a team’s experience provides valuable insight into this organisational magic. Appreciating work done as knowledge gained enables future work to grow from previous insights and helps an individual own their change process.

2) Focus on learning and sharing knowledge

Fear of failure can be more debilitating than failure itself. Acknowledging the current situation can unearth realities we do not want to know. Just last year we saw a prominent leader suggest in a tweet that testing “makes us look bad” and pleaded to “slow the testing down, please”. In the case of a pandemic, and most other situations for that matter, ignorance is not bliss. Understanding a situation provides us with a starting point for improvement.

Creating a culture which values learning and sharing knowledge prevents problems being hidden, or worse, promoted as successes. Rewarding individuals for identifying issues, sharing solutions, and learning from others removes the fear of being penalised. Technology such as Teams, Slack, and Basecamp to name a few, can promote communication throughout an organisation. Upskilling employees to think critically, know how to test ideas and follow processes to share data appropriately supports the framework required for an experimental mindset.

3) Encourage creativity

Data is so powerful but so is our ability to create. Waiting for better data and better models to provide all the answers can grind operations to a halt. Encouraging people to be creative and test new ideas against old methods prevents analysis paralysis and promotes action. History has taught us that society is most productive when science and art are both are valued and inspiring one another. Likewise, data insights are most useful when supporting creative endeavours and vice versa. Learning to understand and act upon “good-enough” data ensures progress and continues to value what makes us human – our ideas.

We hope these tips help you build an experimental mindset in your organisation and if you’d like our help building a healthy data culture in your organisation, get in touch today.