The recent uproar concerning experiments run by Facebook is really worrying. Because without experiments, there is no business, there is no progress and we learn nothing. Most of my working day is spent conducting experiments or setting up experiments. Most of my business advice ends with “well, let’s try it!” Facebook being accused now is ludicrous. Google runs much more experiments on a much grander scale and nobody has ever complained about that, have they?
Anything we do on the internet is set up as an A/B experiment. I, Facebook or Google do exactly the same thing: we send one user to one type of setup and the next to another. Then we measure. It is no different to what I did when I was in retail. You set up a shelf one way, see how it sells, how people react. You set up a different store differently. Then you measure.
This attitude really is the only way to learn. Whether you are Leonardo DaVinci or Bill Gates, this is your tool. Experimentation. And of course in business, until animals get their own credit cards, most experiments concern human behavior. We want to sell more, change attitudes, change beliefs, influence you. We play music at different volumes to change the speed you walk in the supermarket, we use different colors to change the way you eat in McDonalds, we use even smells to sell more in a travel office. You do the same thing everyday in your job too. Two year olds do the same things to test their parents limits.
Much of my best consulting has been in finding ways to conduct experiments despite limitations. How to test demand for an eshop idea without actually building it for real? How to find potential buyers for a service which hasn’t been completely defined yet? How to run a competition for our product without risking the edgy concept backfiring on us?
So give Facebook some slack and stop pretending. Look at your everyday life. If you’re not experimenting all the time, you’re not learning.