Want to win in business? Be a scientist

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I am frequently asked by clients and reporters what is the key ingredient to entrepreneurial success.

  • A great idea?
  • Financial backing?
  • A charismatic founder?
  • A bulletproof business plan?
  • Great selling skills?

These things can certainly help. But what will make or break your entrepreneurial journey is:

The ability to be a scientist.

What I mean specifically about being a scientist is willingness to:

  • Create a working hypothesis and test it
  • Observe results with curiosity, not judgment
  • Ask why
  • Tweak. Retest. Observe. Ask why. Tweak again.

When you view the entrepreneurial journey as a series of experiments, it is interesting and intellectually stimulating, and a puzzle to be solved.

When you view it is an epic Hollywood drama of sweeping success or crushing failure, chances are you will not last very long, and be an emotional wreck.


Let’s imagine Groupon’s marketing team meeting on Monday morning after their Superbowl advertisements:

Groupon, the Scientists: “Well that was fascinating.! We had the hypothesis that spoofing serious social issues in our commercials would be hilarious and garner new fans. The results show that we just spent millions of dollars to invoke mass ire. I wonder why that happened and how we can turn this experience into something positive?”

Groupon, the Hollywood Producer : “You are all a group of total idiots. Whoever signed off on that marketing campaign is fired. Let’s find a way to cover our ass as quickly as possible.”

Notice the difference?

Few people are as enthusiastic, and relentless, about testing than my friend Ramit Sethi. In a recent post, he lays out numerous examples of the power of testing your assumptions (FYI there is a bit of Not Safe for Work language in the piece). My favorite is the best man who spent 7 months perfecting a wedding toast. Now that is a friend you want to have!

Brian Clark of Copyblogger shares the same enthusiasm for testing, described in his 7 Small Tweaks That Boost Conversion. Who would have known that given a choice, more people would click a button that says “It’s free” rather than “Sign up free” or “Free Signup.” Or that changing a sign-up button color from green to red would boost conversion by 21%?  Brian Clark would know, because he has built a thriving business sharing tips on tiny twists and tweaks that add up to successful online commerce.

I share some more examples in an interview in The New York Times today on the topic of Testing the Entrepreneurial Life.

So if you find yourself with a thought like:

“I knew I should never have approached that store with an offer to sell my spicy almonds, they rejected me!”

Put on your scientist hat and think instead:

“How fascinating! I thought the store would be excited about selling my spicy almonds but they were not. I wonder why?”

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22 Responses to “Want to win in business? Be a scientist”

  1. I’m gone to tell my little brother, that he should also visit this web site on regular basis to take updated from most recent news.

  2. […] have written before about how important it is to be a scientist in your entrepreneurial journey. Since you have defined your metrics from the outset, it will not […]

  3. Rob says:

    This draws to mind when my 6 year old was learning to tie his shoes. After so much trial and effort, the ‘aha’ moment came. And with it, a priceless sparkle in his eyes. The ‘aha’ moment is what encourages all of us. Unlocking the code. Thanks for a fond memory and helping me to focus on the breaking more codes.

  4. […] Want To Win Business? Be A Scientist | Pamela Slim, escapefromcubiclenation.com […]

  5. […] Want to win in business? Be a scientist Nyfikenhet är en dygd. Plocka isär dina grejer och kolla hur de […]

  6. “.. is that they do now need..” = “.. is that they do NOT need..” in my above post. Sorry.

  7. Excellent post.

    When I do workshops I usually also tell people that they need to be “knowledge workers”. Meaning that they may not know how to design and implement a wordpress theme, but they need to know that there is something called a “wordpress theme” (just as an example).

    The bottom line is that they do now need to be able to do everything in their business (I preach outsourcing a lot :)) but they need to know what is possible. When they know what is possible it is also so much easier to get someone else to do it right! (and not just, “I want a website” and then be disappointed when they see the result from this very basic instruction).

  8. Varun Ambrose says:

    This is EXACTLY what I needed to read & understand. I have slowly & painfully started to de-program myself from the “Fear of Failure” mentality and adopt a “Relentless Improvement” mentality. Every fellow male my age ought to read this.

    This was perfect, Pamela. Thank you!!

  9. So timely! In my “ideas” notebook last night I had just written down three different hypotheses to test for my product development roadmap. This tells me I’m on the right track.

  10. Alison says:

    Love this. So often, a scientific approach to life is seen as the mark of a loser but as you say, if you’re prepared to analyse your successes and failures, you can go far.

    Mind you, I wonder if the scientist’s caution actually stops them from taking entrepreneurial risks?

  11. KP Kelly says:

    As a self proclaimed Schizopreneur, this is effective and practical advice I will utilize. Definitely an article to print and tape in front of my face for all my crazy entrepreneur ideas!

  12. This must be a message I’m meant to hear today. The blurb in my daily meditation book (Journey to the Heart) says, “The lesson is never about them… it’s always about how you respond.” While her message is about recognizing passive-aggressive behavior, it applies here. Why let rejection control your progress… Learn from it, and keep going.

  13. Brie says:

    Such a great lesson and one that is easily lost when folks are passionate about what they do. It’s important to be passionate but not emotional in any professional endeavor. The spicy almonds example made me laugh, it’s so easy to react to setbacks with hurt feelings and anger, but it’s much more productive to react by asking, “why did this happen and what can I do next time to improve?”

  14. […] Want to win in business? Be a scientist […]

  15. Colette says:

    Score one for the scientists! Great post!

  16. M. A. Tohami says:

    I’ve always believed in the power and necessity of Trial and Error. It is inevitable no matter how many systems out there promise you saving years of trial and error.

    Test and fail until you perfect your own success formula.

  17. I think that this applies to all aspects of life, not just business. That gentle, curious, non-judgmental attitude is helpful within families, friendships, relationships with self, and professional situations. Thanks for a great framework!

  18. Sonia Simone says:

    For me this connects to Ben conductor Zander’s wonderful “How fascinating!” when a musician makes a mistake. (He talks about it in The Art of Possibility, a book I love.)

    It’s a major head shift, but when I can manage it I sure do enjoy the ride more (and learn a lot more from it).

  19. People who are amazingly creative don’t have one brilliant idea and get lucky enough to turn it into success. They have 1,000 ideas and keep trying one until one of them works.

    Love this post. It deserves many RTs.

  20. Very similar to what I learned as an engineer: build a little, test a little…repeat.

  21. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pamela Slim, Brenda Tello Horton, John Paul Grant, jeSAROS, jslade and others. jslade said: Want to win in business? Be a scientist: I am frequently asked by clients and reporters what is the key… http://bit.ly/gTbMgq […]

  22. Shanna Mann says:

    Shout it from the rooftops, sister. Such an important skill ANYWHERE in life, but I’ve often been at a loss as to how to teach that skill to others. Why so quick to sit in judgment on yourself? Lay off, and keep the spirit of adventure and curiosity alive. We’re none of us making it out of this world alive.