Imagine deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life at 4 years old without any outside verification whatsoever. That’s what I did, and I can’t recommend against it strongly enough. What I should have done instead was rapid experimentation to find out what career and life goals would work best with my personality and values.Do not make a big life decision without engaging in rapid experimentation. Get some IRL data first.Click To Tweet
When I was 4, I was told I was good at arguing so I should be a lawyer. And so I became one. This is not to say I didn’t consider it carefully. I thought and thought and researched and discussed it with family and friends. Law & Order marathons on TNT helped a bit. I thought I understood what it meant to be an attorney.
Things I didn’t do? Speak to an actual attorney ever before going to law school. I definitely didn’t intern or shadow and attorney to find out what the job was like. Is it any wonder I wound up miserable, shocked, and discouraged by the realities of being an attorney so much so that I suffered panic attacks and a total life identity crisis 10 years in?
I pushed all my chips into the center of the table without knowing the rules of the game. I failed to experiment, get any hard data, or talk with others. So when my one great life experiment failed, it failed hard and it was incredibly difficult to extract myself from it. Here’s why we need to engage in rapid experimentation or prototyping for any of our big goals.Find out why we need to engage in rapid experimentation and prototype our big life goals.Click To Tweet
What is Rapid Experimentation?
Rapid experimentation involves creating many prototypes of your goal that you can test without much risk to your time or money.Rapid experimentation means testing goal prototypes without much risk to your time or money.Click To Tweet
Prototyping a goal involves creating a scenario in which you can gather hard data on a question you need answered about how best to achieve your goal.
So say you want to change careers or re-enter the workforce. Maybe real estate has always seemed interesting to you but becoming an agent is a long and involved process, and becoming a successful agent is even harder. What if you don’t like it when you get there?
Rapid experimentation would allow you to create a series of scenarios in which you can test out different jobs that serve your career goals without a ton of commitment before you’re ready.
Why Engage in Rapid Experimentation?
It is a common myth, and one that I have held onto fervently for years, that if we only thought long enough and researched hard enough about something, we will know what to do.It is a common myth that if we only thought long enough about something, we will how to proceed. Click To Tweet
But think back on your experiences with this. Did your research and deep thinking ultimately lead you to the best decision? Or was it when you actually tested your theories out in the real world that you understood how to move forward?
What if you could do some thinking and research, but not make it exhaustive? Instead, you would think about how to best test your ideas in the real world. And then, you go and test them with a limited expenditure of resources.
Just like gambling, never bet more than you have to lose. The same is true for any big goal or plan in life. Never risk more time or money in it than you have to lose, until it is no longer a risk but as certain as life can be. This is the basis for rapid experimentation.
How Do We Engage in Rapid Experimentation?
First we need to create several “prototypes” for our goal or plan.
Going back to our real estate example, we need to create scenarios in which we can get hard data on what we think we’ll like about real estate and see if that actually materializes.
A prototype should answer a question that we have. So think about what attracted you to real estate in the first place. Is it being able to control your hours? Do you just love homes? Do you really like talking to people and networking?
Brainstorm with Friends
Next brainstorm scenarios in which you can test whether a job in real estate fulfills these goals. This is best done with a non-judgmental, creative group of friends or family. Pose a question like “how many ways can we think of to make money while controlling your own hours?”
Don’t pose the solution, real estate agent, as that will inevitably come up. But maybe there are a ton of other options that will get you to the same place and check other boxes for you as well.
At the very end of your brainstorm session, when all of your collective imagination is exhausted, only then do you start choosing your top 5 to experiment with.
Create the Experiment
Start with your number one top prototype idea and see if you can conduct an informational interview with someone doing that thing you are considering doing. If real estate agent remained your number one pick after all that brainstorming, go talk to an agent candidly and NOT to try to get a job with them. You want real data, not to either give or receive a sales pitch.
Another idea is to shadow or intern with an agent for a few weeks or months to get a feel for the actual experience of that job. You could also take on a temporary project such as staging a house for a friend, or helping out in some other way.
Pivot to Where the Data Leads You
Maybe from that you find you love it. Or maybe you find the networking piece is way out of your wheelhouse and you end up connecting with an interior designer you meet along the way. That looks interesting…so you repeat the process over there.
These little serendipities are the beauty of rapid experimentation. Because you haven’t invested much time or money in the experiment, you’re much more willing and able to pivot when the data points you in another direction.Little serendipities are the beauty of rapid experimentation.Click To Tweet
You Can Rapid Experiment Your Life Goals Too
Rapid experimentation doesn’t just work for career changes. We can do it with our life goals as well. In fact, this blog is basically dedicated to my rapid experiments with personal growth. Here you’ll find details of my quick, real world experiments in meditation, exercise regimes, and nutrition.
For example, I have a goal of eating healthy and cutting out sugar. I did do a lot of research but ultimately I had to try out a few different nutritional plans before I found one that worked for me. First I tried a low carb high fat diet but wound up with high cholesterol. Then, the mediterranean diet worked for me but I was still having trouble with sugar. Finally, I did a Whole30 which broke my cycle of sugar addiction at least for a while. Now I’m much more conscious of my sugar intake and keep it down as low as possible while indulging in the occasional treat.
All of these experiments took a total of about 6 months and I risked very little in the process.
Rapid experimentation may feel like a waste of time, but trust me, working for a decade in a career that’s not right for you after going to school for 3 years for that career is a bigger waste of time. Even if you think you KNOW what you want to do with your goals, do yourself a favor and do some rapid experimentation so you can fail quickly if necessary and fail forward toward a path more inline with your personality and values.
Have you done any rapid experiments lately? Did they succeed or “fail”? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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P.P.S. This is article is part of my month-long series on goal setting. Check out the other articles in this series below and check back in on Wednesday for a new post in the series!
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