When it comes to organisational testing and learning, what topics should you run experiments on?

All of them. Every single one. Let me explain.

At first, it may seem strange to say that everything is up for experimentation. Surely there are some things we don’t need to experiment around? Aren’t there some things we just know, and we don’t need to learn any more about?

Well, possibly not. For this, I turn to one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite philosophers, John Stuart Mill.

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Now I appreciate the language there is somewhat old school and hard to understand, but in essence what Mill is saying that when it comes to your freedom to express opinions, you should be able to express whatever opinions you want. If the opinion you express is correct, then others will benefit by hearing it. If it is incorrect, others will still benefit, as being made to think about the issue again, they will gain a clearer understanding of why the opinion is incorrect, and therefore what the truth of the situation actually is.

I believe the same is true when it comes to experimentation. One of the key elements of a good experiment is that it is repeatable. If the hypothesis behind the experiment is correct, then re-running the experiment will simply confirm this. If the hypothesis is incorrect, or if it used to be correct in one time or one context, but is now no longer correct, then you will gain “an even livelier impression of the truth, produced by its collision with error”.

Things change. Time moves on. Variability happens. As all of these things take place, things that were once true may no longer be true, and it is always worth testing them again. Perhaps they’re still true now. If so, great, that’s something worth confirming. Perhaps they’re not. If so, even better, as you can now reshape your understanding to fit reality.

Of course, you could argue that experimenting with everything will cost more time and money than simply accepting some things as facts and getting on with the work to be done. However, great experiments should be small, simple, quick to run and easy to repeat, meaning their overhead is low. More important still is the fact that confirming knowledge empirically with experimentation and being sure you’re doing the right thing is likely far cheaper than assuming you know what you’re doing and getting things wrong.

A good empiricist will never shy away from re-running an experiment. It’s why the We Tried This And platform allows you to search other people’s anonymised experiments , along with their methodology, so you can re-run them in your time and your context, to see what your truth may be.