Added On: Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cheap Experiments

I once met a guy who'd built a successful website that he'd made a lot of money from. It's always interesting to talk to people who've done well, so I asked him what his secret was.

His answer was typical of a lot of those who build something popular on the internet: "It was mostly just a hobby, I never expected it to get that popular".

He got quite interested in releasing websites before his success and had tried out quite a few different ones dealing with all sorts of areas. The ones he anticipated to be a "big deal" mostly flopped, while those that were "just for fun" sometimes did well.

This is what surprises me about success in my own life and those I observe. It often comes from somewhere fairly unexpected. Someone will meet another person they're not that impressed with at first, and will go on to marry them. A side business that's not anticipated to do much, goes on to be a world-beater. That job interview that didn't feel like it went that well leads to a fabulous career.

I guess what it all boils down to is this - reality is quite different from how we think it is. It has an endless capacity to surprise us and frustrate our assumptions about it.

So what are we to do in reaction to this?

I think a good strategy in almost any area of life is to conduct a lot of small, cheap experiments and just see what happens. How unfair we think things are, how we think the world should work, and how cool we think some theory or saying sounds is all largely irrelevant. All that matters is what works. And the best way to figure that out is through experimentation.

The successful web entrepreneur is a perfect example. He tried out all sorts of different web businesses before finding one that worked. Rather than pouring all his resources into one big idea, he tried out lots and then concentrated on the one that seemed to be working.

The dating game is another area ripe for experimentation. Rather than following what you think should work, or what you've been told works, try out a few different theories. How?

Well, why not go to a few speed-dating events. You meet a number of people at them and get direct feedback about whether they want to see you again or not. If you dressed differently, behaved differently and even smelled differently at each one, you'd get excellent feedback about what is successful with the opposite sex. Rather than guessing, you can build a model that works.

Investment is one more area where experimentation works. When you first get into it, try putting small amounts of money into different schemes. Some goes into mutual funds, some goes to property, some goes into bonds and so on. After a few years, you'll start to figure out what works for you and what doesn't.

Face it, when it comes to the nature of the world, you have a limited idea at best on how it works. Sure, you're probably full of clever theories and sharp-sounding cliches. But the only way to really find out how it works is to try stuff out. The more you try, the better you understand.

So get out there and do lots of small, cheap experiments. While others rave on about how the world doesn't work the way they believe it should, you'll be collecting valuable data and so you can speed past them towards the good things in life.

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