Experiment - don't change

· August 28, 2015

I re-read a post I wrote about 6 months ago, after a consultancy gig at Nintex. And one thing in there resounded with me and some of the conversations I’ve been having lately.

I wrote (and said):

Stop changing and start experimenting

This would probably be my #1 tip for change management; don’t do changes - do experiments instead.

In this post I thought I’d examine that recommendation in a little more detail.

Well actually my #0 tip is read Switch - How to make change when change is hard, but you knew that one already, right? It’s packed with tips and tricks that anyone wanting to understand change should read. At least instead of this post.

In the Switch book the authors says something like this (my wording):

People don't dislike change - they dislike being changed

This is a vital, fundamental observation for me. Far too often I’ve been involved in trying to change people. Think for awhile why the whole field is called change management. We have to manage the change, implement it. It’s hard work and needs to be controlled and managed. Change is hard.

In the spirit of teal organizations let’s think past that problem. What if we could get what we wanted without change? Yes, it’s a little bit stupid, because something has to change for something to improve, I know but give me some leeway.

What’s in a word?

What if we just changed the word “change” itself? Instead of talking about changing something; let’s talk about doing an experiment.


a scientific test in which you perform a series of actions and carefully observe their effects in order to learn about something

something that is done as a test : something that you do to see how well or how badly it works

Let’s contrast experiments and changes a bit. All of these are my interpretations of the concepts based on my experience;


Change is permanent. There’s a “how we used to do it” and “this new thing”, a Before and After. Going back to the “old ways” is a failure. “The new thing we changed into didn’t work, so we have to go back. Told ya!”.

An experiment is per definition limited in scope (time and other), it’s by definition something “we try to learn from”. If an experiment fails not only can we easily revert to our old ways, but also is the failing bad in itself; failing is just an outcome that we can learn from.


For me, in doing a change, we have also defined what better is. It’s imperative and closed, I think. “This is going to be our outfit. One-piece silver jumpsuit, V-stripe, and boots. That’s it.” - obscure Seinfeld quote).

We close down other possibilities.

When posing an experiment we are also humble before the fact that we don’t (I said do not) know the outcome: “Dude, I don’t know if it works… let’s try it for awhile and see.”


After introducing the change it’s very natural to start to ask: “How are we going to do that?”. We are focusing on HOW we are going to achieve the change. Not thinking too much about if the goal is good or bad and thinking even less about if the change will take us towards that goal or not.

Directly after posing an experiment it’s very natural to ask: “How do we know if it became better or worse?”. This means that we ask important questions about the outcome, WHAT we are trying to achieve. The focus is naturally drawn towards the outcome of the experiment or the goal.


The other day I asked about peoples experiences with mob programming, in particular where it had failed:

I did this because I’ve not heard many people talk about failing in mob programming and I thought that was a bit interesting. More interesting was the answers I got.

I read from the answers that failing in mob programming was mainly about forcing people to take part, against their will. That’s a bad idea no matter the practice, as I wrote about the other day.

This also ties back to people not want to be changed.

Experiments doesn’t have those traits since we, as I said above, are humble before the fact that we don’t know what better actually looks like.

“In order to increase our effectiveness we will, starting Friday, do mob programming.” sets a tone of order. “Let’s try to do mob programming on Friday and see how it goes.” sets a tone of invitation.


Even if you didn’t agree with a single word of this post, next time you want something to change talk about it in terms of “experiment” or “experimenting”.

I promise you that people will take to that easier, be more open to take part and that you will learn more from it.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve implemented the wrong change. I’ve yet to cause the same damage with an experiment.

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