Guessing & Testing: The Two-Stroke Engine that Drives Innovation

Guessing & Testing: The Two-Stroke Engine that Drives Innovation

Gray Somerville

Gray Somerville

The innovation process is different from almost everything else we do. While standard business processes apply what is already known, the innovation process is a search for what is yet unknown. We are grasping for new insights that will light the way to a better future for our customers, our organization, ourselves, and possibly even the world. But here’s the question: how exactly does one step into the unknown?

For example, imagine you were standing blindfolded in the middle of a large, dark room and had to find the exit. How would you proceed? How would you determine where the exit was and what obstacles or pitfalls were in your path? Well, you would take a guess. And then, carefully, you would test that guess with a small experiment. For example, you might conjecture that the exit is straight ahead. But rather than racing forwards, you would carefully probe the darkness with your fingertips and test the ground beneath your feet. If you ran into a wall, you would formulate a new hypothesis, and try again. Eventually, all of this guessing and testing would render a mental map of the room that would empower you to achieve your goal.

This is how all knowledge is created: we take a guess; we run a test; repeat. This is how all innovations are created: we take a guess; we run a test; repeat. This is how we become innovators: we take a guess; we run a test; repeat.

So, is that it? Is that the best we can do? Guess? Test? Repeat?

Thankfully, no. For though we cannot escape the fundamental uncertainty of the innovator’s journey we can optimize this guess-and-test process in two ways:

  1. We can get better at guessing. Rather than just blindly throwing darts, we can develop theories and methods that guide our guesses much closer to the bullseye.
  2. We can get better at testing. In other words, we can find faster, cheaper, more reliable ways to detect the inevitable errors in our ideas.

This is what the innovation process is – it’s all the things we've learned about how to turn ideas into reality with less risk. The things we’ve learned about how to make better guesses. The things we’ve learned about how to detect and correct the errors those guesses contain.

Innovation is complex and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or confused. When that happens, you can regain your bearings by coming back to these four simple principles:

  1. At its core, the innovation process comes down to this: guess, test, repeat.
  2. Do everything in your power to make better guesses.
  3. Never forget that your guesses have errors, some of which can be disastrous.
  4. Strive to detect and correct those errors as fast and cheap as you can.
Gray Somerville

Gray Somerville


Gray Somerville is a serial entrepreneur, innovation expert, and LaunchPath’s CEO. Besides LaunchPath, Gray has helped launch and lead three other successful startups including Telogical Systems and Adacus.