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  • Danny

Merchant Of Death

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

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Merchant Of Death

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer and keen inventor with 100s of patents to his name, most of which were explosives. In 1888, Alfred's brother died in France, a French newspaper mistakenly got Alfred and his brother mixed up and published an obituary for him, with the headline "merchant of death" due to his invention of dynamite.

This unexpected glimpse into the future affected Alfred and caused him to reflect on what his legacy would be and how he would be remembered after his death. Alfred decided to re-write his will, with the direction that the majority of his fortune should go to establishing the Nobel Prize. Alfred wanted the prizes to recognise outstanding contributions to humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The will was signed in 1895 just one year before Nobel's death.

Today, the Nobel Prizes are considered among the most prestigious awards available in their respective fields and continue to recognise individuals who make significant contributions to humanity.


Together over the past few weeks, we have embarked on a journey to explore the world of experimentation. We've delved into its definition, importance, and application in new innovation and employee experience. Before we de-robe from the lab coat and hang the goggles up it makes sense that we do a quick wrap-up and generate some key takeaways before we hand over to the final post of the series.

Experimentation 101: Here is where it all started, a brief exploration of what experimentation means in the context of EX and innovation. We learned that experimentation is a method to validate or reject a set of hypotheses and assumptions, or to discover something new. It's a tool we use every day, often without realising it. We also discussed the importance of having the right mindset and behaviours to foster a culture of experimentation within an organisation.

The Assumption Trap: In our second post, we zoomed into the dangers of making assumptions. We learned that unchecked assumptions can lead to pricey mistakes and missed opportunities. To avoid this, we introduced the Crosshair Challenger, a tool to help identify and prioritise assumptions for validation through experimentation.

Bat Bombs, Fight Club, and Samuel L. Jackson: In our most recent post, we used some mental shortcut examples to illustrate the principles of experimentation. We learned the importance of keeping experiments simple, adaptable, and motivating (SAM). We also discussed the rules of fight club when it comes to experimentation

Today I want to bring it all to life by sharing a simple process that you can return back to time and time again, in the final of the series I will share a simple five-step process about building a chain of custody … Let's Go

The FIVE simple steps to experimentation

You now have the depth of details from the previous posts, it's time we zoom out from the detail and put it all into a high-level process flow. One that consists of just five simple steps:

Step 1: Identifying Assumptions

It always starts in the land of assumptions. These assumptions are the untested beliefs and hunches we hold about our projects, products, services, experience or ideas.

They're like the invisible things you do without knowing, like right now I am typing with my mouth open without knowing (maybe you are reading this doing the same), well these assumptions are little voices in the background of our minds trying to influence or thinking, decision making and actions. These assumptions can be pesky little devils, leading us astray if left unchecked. This is why we should expose them by light, it is time to whip out the crosshair challenger and start identifying any assumptions we might have and categorising them based on things such as proof, impact etc this will help identify which of the assumptions to tackle first.

Step 2: Crafting Experiment Cards

Now that we've identified our assumptions, it's time to design some experiments (time to don the lab coat again), here is a preference thing, I personally like to use a template like the experiment card below. Do whatever works for you as a team. Whichever way you decided to capture and cement the experiment there is a pretty clear blueprint of what each experiment should have outlined:

  • Assumption: What belief are you testing what is your assumption?

  • Hypothesis: What do you expect will happen when you run the experiment?

  • Method: Describe how you will run the test what type of experiment are you running in detail?

  • Who: Here you would put detail on the audience of your experiment

  • Metrics: How will you measure the results, try to avoid words like success, it's about learning

  • Planner: here is a bit of a planner around the steps to set up the experiment

I would suggest once your experiment card is written to get someone in to play a critical friend on the experiment and test if the experiment meets the SAM criteria and fight club rules. If it doesn't maybe you have over-engineered the experiment, of course, this is contextual to the challenge depending on if you are using it to create a new venture vs testing a new people product

Step 3: Creating a Chain of Custody

Once your Experiment Cards are ready to go, it's time to add some rigour to the tracking of your experiments. Once they go live it can be hard to keep track of who, how and where they are happening in your organisation especially if you're running more than one.

In the past I have set this up in many ways depending on the organisational maturity, at times it's been a simple Excel sheet and other times it has been a Kanban board. The honest answer is it can be whatever you want it to be, as long as it's a central repository where all experiments in the organisation can be tracked and moved. Remember this is a love document or hub that will be updated regularly with all the basics of who did what and when time stamps, it should show the progression of the experiment from the start days, the phase of the experiment as well as end dates, learning and next steps. This part of experimentation is the one I notice always gets forgotten. Maintaining a chain of custody for our experiments, allows us to have a complete record of the process while also providing provides transparency and accountability and an easy way to demonstrate the value to our stakeholders

Step 4: Running the Experiment

Now comes the fun part - running the experiment which puts everything into action, remember when running the experiments the goal isn't to show your right. The goal is to show your learning so stay open and honest throughout. Be ready for any unexpected results and lean into what you may learn from them. It is worth adding into the experiment some key touch points where you will get together and discuss the learning to date and discuss if the experiment needs to continue or does it need adjusting

Step 5: Learning Card Post Experiment

Now comes the fun part - running the experiment which puts everything into action, remember when running the experiments the goal isn't to show you're right. The goal is to show you're learning so stay open and honest throughout.

The Rub

Having a consistent process like the simple steps above helps explain how it works for new members of the team, as well as explain which stage the experiments are in i.e. Identifying, Designing, Testing and Learning.

It is important to not throw away the experiment and learning insights, instead having them stored in your research repository will allow future experimenters to look at any new insight as well as identify potential variables in the experiments

(This blog post is just a small excerpt from our informative newsletter. Sign up here to receive regular newsletters packed with valuable insights, and expert tips)

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