In his HBR post Live Life as an Experiment, Peter Bregman describes a fascinating mini-experiment where he tries to get out of paying a 20% restocking fee simply by asking. He doesn't push (well, other than to keep asking :-) and he treats the store's employees with respect. It's a fun read, it brings up excellent points about life-as-experiment - 100% Think, Try, Learn. You'll find the comments stimulating as well. Following are my two replies.
I'm curious: Have you tried anything like this yourself? How did it go? How did they react? Did you get the discount? Did you learn something?
(P.S. If you'd like to try it out yourself (or maybe something related like bartering on a price), head over to Edison.)
On the benefits of experimenting in life
Peter, I love your attitude about experimentation, and I think we can all benefit from adding more of it to our lives. You capture the spirit beautifully in your passage about how framing life this way has big benefits. I'm writing a book on this very topic, and I'd like to share a few additional benefits I've thought of:
- Experimenting is fun because trying something new is exhilarating, and discovery feels good.
- Acknowledging you're new and don't know what you're doing is a relief!
- You are guaranteed to succeed because you *will* come out knowing more than you went in.
- You become more playful because your observation skills tune you into the amusing possibilities of life, and open you to delightful surprises.
- You feel more creative because you see things differently and more objectively, which pulls you outside of your normal models, biases, and patterns.
- You deepen self-understanding because you study yourself in action and learn what makes you tick. This leads to working in harmony with yourself.
- You become more courageous, because thinking of something scary as an experiment feels lighter than "all or nothing" models.
- And finally, and maybe most importantly, you are more mindful because observation puts you into the joy of the moment, rather than worrying about the past or future.
On ethics, business, and black boxes
@Mark, et al: re: ethics: Experimentation almost always involves (that's one of the indicators that you're doing one), but in this case the risk was simply discomfort. Peter wasn't responsible for how the employees reacted, and it sounds like he behaved very respectfully. He was simply asking for something, then asking again. I did something similar when Comcast upped our internet rate. I wanted to know whether I would get a discount if I kept asking. It worked! I have a saying, "You never know until you try," (shortened to YNK) or the variation, "If you don't ask, the answer's no."
What Peter did was play with the system. I think of the world (in this case, the store and its employees) it as a kind of black box. Ultimately any complex system is opaque, which means all you can do is observe inputs and outputs. In this case, he poked the box, got responses, and repeated. Crucially, he got data he (and we!) can use in the future. Calling it manipulative in this sense is accurate. What if you called it "play?" Importantly, I hope he had fun with it. Learning to enjoy the process of experimentation (rather than focusing solely on the outcome) is a key to living happily, I'm finding.
@Hiral: The worker was following the script, which is fine. His choice. You could also ask him if you could use the bathroom. He could decline and say it's against store policy, but how would that look from a service perspective. Regarding running a business, getting people who try this experiment is itself data - the best way to look at a business is as *itself* an experiment, especially in these hard economic times. Paying attention to the data, learning from it, and changing is the essence of evolution. It's smart!
@Geri: "Few of us get things right the first time" - exactly. In fact, feeling like you have to get it right ("one chance thinking" I call it) is a major barrier to experimentation. It should also be a warning flag. Well put. Experimentation's redefinition of failure and mistakes is an extremely important shift in thinking. For failure, we should always ask by what metric are you judging it? Often we have a binary, e.g., "Made $1M or didn't." But we can always look at it differently. The ultimate measure guarantees success: "What did you learn?"
@Eric: Your insight about learning by watching others' experiments is spot-on. It's not only a way to get wise safely, but it's also inspiring. Also, it's a way for us to help others by sharing our wisdom and helping them when *they're* experimenting. These are exactly the ideas behind our Edison tool that I mentioned above (http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/). I invite you to check out the experiments we're doing there, such as the person who's implanting a magnet in his finger (http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/experiments/show/147).