Monthly Archives: November 2013

Learning by Experimenting: When Just Doing is Not Enough

Innovation requires dedication to challenging the status quo. And, in order for the world to change through innovative thinking, new ideas must have impact and spread. These two statements are not ground-breaking, but they represent formidable tests of a would-be innovator.

It’s been my experience that aspiring innovators struggle with testing their own assumptions while dogmatically fighting to protect their ideas from being challenged. These untested ideas become the accepted truth for a would-be innovator. Regretfully, there have been many times in my own entrepreneurial career when I stubbornly stuck to flawed assumptions without testing whether an idea has a positive impact and can spread through the world.

Master artist remains a student

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit Painted in 1882 by John Singer Sargent

Acquired from Boston Museum of Fine Arts Website ( on January 1st, 2014

One of my favorite paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is the  “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent. This oil painting is unique, capturing what feels like an impromptu snapshot in the life of four sisters. Displayed next to the painting are two tall vases shown in the piece, increasing the effect that you are looking at a real life scene and not a contrived sitting for a portrait.

In describing how innovative the painting was at the time, the MFA notes that:

“While some critics praised Sargent’s technical abilities, most found the composition troubling for its unconventional approach to portraiture.” [1]

Now showing at the MFA is a special exhibition of John Singer Sargent watercolors. Being a fan of Sargent’s other works, I was excited to see this temporary exhibit of more than 90 paintings.

The exhibition is arranged by the theme (as an alternative to arranging by date or location), so it gives visitors an opportunity to see how Sargent experimented and progressed as an artist. The notes next to the individual paintings also describe how Sargent worked alongside and learned from other great artists from that time.

Failure is important

As Eric Ries talks about in his book The Lean Startup, failure is critical to an entrepreneur’s progress towards becoming an innovator. Ries makes the point that an entrepreneur who cannot fail will not be able to learn how to succeed. He states:

“…If the plan is to see what happens, a team is guaranteed to succeed–at seeing what happens–but won’t necessarily gain validated learning.” [2]

Just as John Singer Sargent iterated and practiced on numerous sketches of the human form to refine his craft, so must an entrepreneur give form to true innovation through validated learning by experimentation and testing.

1. Acquired from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston website –
2. Eric Ries. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (New York: Crown Business/Random House, Inc., 2011), 56.