Without a doubt, there are tried and true business processes, protocols and procedures that just plain work. There is a tool box. The more we know of it and the more we put those tools and axioms into play, the more successful we might be. Find the tool box. By all means, use it.

As well, there are other people, colleagues, friends and yes, consultants who have good advice for us in our businesses. They may have been through the same issues before. They may have made the same mistakes we are about to make.  They may simply have the benefit of distance and perspective. So again, by all means, use your network.

But I want to advocate for an additional channel of knowledge and experience.

Every one of those accepted procedures in the toolbox and every idea your friends in your network (and the consultants) came up with didn’t exist one day and then did the next. Somebody thought them up. Somebody had an idea, tried it and it worked.

Science: Identify the problem. Think of a solution that could work to solve it or to answer your  question. Test it. Watch what happens. Measure stuff. Evaluate if what happened achieved your goals. Do it again.

Trust that you know enough to do this. Your colleagues, MBA friends and consultants are just like you: Junior Scientists.

I’d like to suggest this may be your very best channel for ideas, solutions and growth. Your situation, your needs and your problems are, in many ways, unique to your business, your location, your market and your value proposition. Who will know better what might work than you?

The pitfall with this is that, for many of us taking early science classes, we were out behind the gym burning one and missed the basics of the Scientific Method. The Method is a mental discipline and it’s critical to execute it properly. Too many times I have seen smart leaders execute stupid science and draw the wrong conclusions.

Among those pitfalls:

Defining the problem. It may not be what is apparent. What is behind the obvious? Is the store too small or sales velocity too slow? What if we need more reps on the road? P&L’s are elastic, after all.

Making an hypothesis. Guard against your own bias. Guard against pre-judging around limitations such as budget or bandwidth. Don’t rule out, for example, instituting a loyalty program because you don’t know how to manage one.

Running the test. Did you doom the result because of lack of staffing or other resources? Testing if being open Sundays will lift sales likely won’t work if you don’t tell anyone.

Measure. I’ve had this discussion dozens of times: “Why don’t you try this?” “We did. It didn’t work.” “How do you know? What did you measure?” “We didn’t, really. You could just tell. Everyone thought so.” Measure the right things. Measure things that tie directly to your problem and your hypothesis. Keep your opinions out of it.

Evaluate results correctly. “The bigger trade show booth didn’t generate new sales.” “Do you typically see sales at your trade shows?” “Well, no. They come before or after.” “Recall we wanted to test the bigger booth footprint to make room to comfortably accommodate the larger line. So more PO’s was not the goal. You are drawing cross-wired conclusions.”

With just a little discipline and rigour, your business can become a science experiment, an incubator for new ideas.

Trust yourself and your intuition!

-Geoff O’Keeffe