“We have a creativity problem,” a New York Times headline reads. According to research published in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal, people harbor an aversion to creators and creativity. 

This aversion, the article notes, hinders innovation in the workplace by discouraging experimentation and hiring people with high levels of creativity. 

It runs rampant within business teams and among leaders. Why? Well, a new idea creates uncertainty and no business wants to be uncertain about a proposed new solution.

It’s especially true in product development where projects can be siloed, information is locked away and protected, and collaboration is clunky. Deviating from the plan can spike anxiety and raise concerns about ruining progress on a project. 

Stefan Thomke, a William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, writes extensively about our fear of creativity and discusses how a product experimentation framework can be embraced within an organization. 

Thomke spoke to the Onshape team about this very subject during our webinar, The Power of Experimentation in Product Development. Here are some key takeaways from his talk. Of course, you can watch the on-demand video now. 

‘Experiments are the Engine of Innovation’

To survive and thrive, businesses need to constantly look for new ways to grow and stay ahead of the competition – even after finding success.

Thomke advises businesses to adopt a product experimentation organization, or workflows and work culture that consistently encourages and tests new ideas.

“It has to become second nature, it has to become like breathing,” he said.

Embracing Uncertainty in Product Experimentation

“People don't like uncertainty,” Thomke said. “But when it comes to new products, turns out that uncertainty is really important because, through uncertainty, you can create value.”

When faced with uncertainty, we tend to rely on experience to help illuminate a path forward. The pitfall, in this case, is the “HiPPO” Effect, or the “highest-paid person’s opinion.” This effect refers to an organization’s tendency to defer to the decisions of the HiPPO in the room instead of sharing new ideas.

To alleviate this, Thomke said, product experimentation must be democratized. People need to be empowered to share their thoughts and have the support to see their ideas through.

Data is Only One Piece of the Puzzle

Another pitfall can be the overreliance on data analytics. Oftentimes, Thomke noted, teams conflate findings as causation and not correlation. Other times, there is not enough data to accurately predict an outcome of a completely novel idea.

Thomke doesn’t advise leaders to completely forgo data analytics but to look at the context of the findings to complement experimentation.

Cultivate Curiosity

An emboldened and empowered workforce is more driven to seek out novel solutions. That is why it is essential to encourage curiosity, Thomke said. 

A culture of curiosity will foster innovation and encourage a cycle of experimentation – even when met with failure. 

“To be innovative, you have to experiment,” Thomke said.  “If you want more inventions, you need to do more experiments per week, per month, per year, per decade. It's that simple, you cannot invent without experimenting.” 

Product Experimentation Framework

Thomke talks to Onshape's Conrado LamasHarvard Professor Stefan Thomke discusses experimentation at work with Onshape's Conrado Lamas. 

Product development is undergoing a heightened transformation as the world continues to become more digital. 

Onshape, the only Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform that combines CAD, built-in PDM, real-time collaboration tools, and business analytics, supports experimentation in a number of ways. 

First and foremost, branching designs in Onshape is a powerful tool that allows users to build variations and experiment with new ideas.

It allows you to make design changes without affecting the original model by creating a branch (or multiple branches) for each trial. Users can even compare branches to see the differences up close. These modifications can also be incorporated into the original design.

So, if you're searching for a new tool to implement more product experimentation in the workplace, or if you or your team want to make variations of your design, consider Onshape!

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