Try It And See What Happens

bungee jumping

Image by peregrinari on Flickr

I’ve noticed in meetings, whether on committees or campus meetings or pretty much any type of meeting, a concern that comes up is uncertainty. How do we know that people will use this service? Will this initiative work? What if we fail? But people aren’t only worried about failure. They’re worried about success too. What if too many people come? What if too many people use this service and it is unsustainable? What if we have too much success?

But uncertainty is the nature of innovation. You can’t possibly know all the consequences of a particular service, initiative, project, etc. In addition, often the unintended consequences are some of the most fruitful. All the planning and studies in the world will never tell you exactly what is going to happen.

While it’s important to plan and anticipate challenges it can also be a hindrance to action. Endless surveys, needs assessments and studying of the situation can bring ideas to a standstill.

If the initiative is something small a good question to ask is “why don’t we try it and see what happens?” If the project is something larger some study is likely necessary, but don’t let it bog you down. Instead of doing everything right the first time make an effort to iterate. Put something out and then change it based on what happens. Host an event and improve on it the next time. Put up the site and alter it based on feedback. Start the new service and then change it after interacting with users.

Get rid of the idea of always getting it right the first time. Do it the first time and then do it better the second time.

Andy Burkhardt


  1. I completely agree. When you see this hesitation going on, in my humble experience, it’s because people either are not allowed to “just do it” or they are punished for trying something and not achieving 100% success. Of course, some of the common justifications for this are things like money and time are scarce and we can’t waste them. That may be true, but standing still is no way to move forward. Even little leaps of faith can generate some positive results.

  2. Gary, I think you are definitely hitting on an important point. Sometimes working environments don’t support just trying something, let alone failure. Managers and leaders need to realize that no one is perfect and that by believing in people and allowing them to fail it opens up they’re real potential. Potential is wasted when people are afraid to act. A lot of good ideas are left for dead when experimentation isn’t supported.

  3. Jake, I like your post. The idea of treating the library like a laboratory seems really freeing. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes, but simply the environment you’re creating seems really positive. It’s not proscriptive, it’s empowering. It seems like it will allow people to be creative and bring their own personal interests, touches, passion to the table. Keep us informed on how it goes.

Leave a Reply