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2011-04-20: They did WHAT?

Test Tube Terrarium

Quick links from the past week of experiments in the World Wide Lab

The best way to learn is to experiment and fail, says Michael Dell. The idea that failure is a necessary part of success is a common idea, but that doesn't mean it's easy or accepted. I like his thought, though:

I think the best learning comes from actually doing things and experimenting, and failing quickly, and small experiments. It's certainly how our company got started. ... It's not always easy and doesn't always work, but that's how the system works.

Two other useful posts on the topic are from HBR: Failure Isn't Enough and Failing Toward Success at Google.

In Food experiments: Sharing recipes online brings new flavors, the author shares one person's journey into vegetarian cooking. Trying new recipes, and variations within them, is a tried-and-true platform for experimenting. Two cases I've come across are not having the right ingredients, and accidents, such as adding the wrong thing or cooking too long.

Experiment: Turning Blogs Into A Kindle Book covers a very clever experiment where the author "took about 100 of my blog posts, bundled them as a PDF, and submitted them to the Kindle Store." He charged $2.99 (a price break point where Amazon's take drops from 70% to 30%). I very much like the idea of using platforms like the Kindle store to do quick experiments like this. The pattern is come up with something relatively easy to test, decide what you'll test, put it up, and learn from the results. It's too early for results, but what do you think about it? Have you tried anything similar?

Cube Project Is A 97 Square Foot Psychology Experiment describes the idea behind Mike Page's Cube Project at the University of Hertfordshire. The gist:

build a compact home, no bigger than 3x3x3 metres on the inside, in which one person could live a comfortable, modern existence with a minimum impact on the environment

I like that he's studying possible behavioral changes that result. Anyone want to give it a go?

The brief story Demand-based parking fees to start in San Francisco made me wonder about the value of such experiments, when reducing the use of cars in general seems more the point. Small steps, I suppose. What would you experiment with to get people to drive less?

The author of Nuclear experiment is a failure says "The biggest and main problem is that nuclear power is still in the experimental stage." Is nuclear power an experiment? If so, what are we measuring?

In the article Study Looks at 'Forbidden Fruit' Hypothesis we learn about a University of Kentucky study that tested the "forbidden fruit hypothesis:"

"If the circumstances or situation implicitly limit a person's attention to an attractive alternative, that alternative suddenly becomes 'forbidden fruit.'"

The answers supported the forbidden fruit theory: "Those whose attention to look at the attractive picture was controlled answered that they were less satisfied in their relationships and had a more positive outlook on infidelity." How could we use this to structure our environments to dissuade (or support) this behavior?

The author of Social experiment: Know thy neighbor shares the results of his reaching out to get to know people around him. I love personal social experiments like this, and I work to try them regularly. What strikes me is that doing this could be considered a kind of experiment in the first place (I think it is). It speaks to our long-distance and thin social connections, I think. I'm curious: How well do you know your neighbors?

Finally, in the category of "Try something extreme for a year and then write a book about it," Comedy and caveats in new book 'The Great Fitness Experiment' talks about Charlotte Andersen's book, The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything. Other examples include Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. What I appreciate about these books is, beyond the fun stories, of course, is the inspiration to try something new, along with experiment ideas. Have you read the book? Any others in this category that you like?

Reader Comments (9)

One of my favorite quotes on this subject: Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Most people are afraid to experiment because it's diving in the unknown which we all fear. The ones that do take the leap are usually also better off than the ones who didn't take the jump.
May 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAE Thanh
Well put, AE. Right now, I've had my share of leaping and falling, and it's not for the weak of heart! Thanks for your comment.
May 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
I make a mistake in my life, that I thought that would be the in of my life. I lost my "so called" friends. I viewed myself as a failure, until I realized that, I really did not fail, I just made a wrong decision in that moment and I can still correct it and make my life right. Now looking back at it, I can not help myself but smile. I like what Michael Dell said "The best way to learn is to experiment and fail"
May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSpiritual Films
*Excellent* comment - thank you very much. That you were able to turn around your thinking is impressive and inspiring. I've made choices that led in directions different from what I wanted (not as "good" ;-) so I think I see where you're coming from. Think, Try, Learn!
May 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
I really did love reading this article. I could relate on this from past experiences. Thanks for sharing.
In our life, there are plenty of experimentations we do, since the word is experiment, it has two result options, one is success and the other one is learning. Quoting Michael Dell "The best way to learn is to experiment and fail" Failure then can be use as a stepping stone to bounce back and reach success.
May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHot Tub Folliculitis
Thanks HSS. HTF: Yes! For me, interpreting failure in terms of learning is obviously a key, but common wisdom sounds flippant when you're talking about failure that hurts. Still working on it...
June 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell
All of us failed in different situations. But this help us to improve more and learn from it.
June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCalgary Listings
i see the experiments as part of a human potentials movement.abraham maslow was/is a part of this movement. basically, the idea is to develop our intewllectual, physical, and/or social (emotional) capacities. we try different things like brain games, learning new languages froman intellectual standpoint. we learn portion control or tracking the foods we eat from aphysical standpoint. socially we open ourselvesup to deeper relationships with those we care ab out, learn to leave old acquaintances who oppose our changing behind as far as the social realm is concerned.what is best quantified includes miles or minutes walked, calories consumed, poems written, pages read, words looked up in dictionaries,etc.
May 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterartie

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