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  • Writer's pictureLucy Hatt

Visualising "Iterative experimentation"

Vikas Kapil, Dave Jarman and I have been working on a series of animations to illustrate the threshold concepts of entrepreneurial thinking. This is the fourth threshold concept in our collection of seven. You can read about the whole set at

This is how we're envisaging "Iterative experimentation"

We're using the principle of "generalisation", an aspect of Variation Theory*, where we learn about something by experiencing varied appearances of the same value, to explain the threshold concepts.

Entrepreneurial thinking means we understand that failure can offer an opportunity to learn. Affordable losses** lead to new knowledge and findings that can ultimately result in big wins and success, although we might not end up where we expected.

Just like the process of scientific experimentation, where an experiment generates unexpected data, rehearsal in the context of performance, or studio time in fine art, iterative experimentation means that outcomes are not evaluated necessarily as “successes” or “failures”. Failure is just an unexpected outcome and consequently can be less emotive.

We can visualise this by using the example of the development of a solution to the problem of transporting heavy luggage in airports. Over a number of iterations, some which progress our journey to a solution, others which do not - we find ourselves with a solution to our problem that we did not anticipate and in fact solves a number of other problems too.

Imagine an elderly traveller. They are excited to be making a long-anticipated trip to visit relatives in a country far away and have struggled to the airport with a big, heavy suitcase.

We want to help, so we attach a couple of wheels to their case to make moving the case a bit easier.

The wheels work really well so we wonder what would happen if we put bigger wheels on. We put bigger wheels on, but they make things worse, so we take them off. We still like the option of wheels though, so we put the first set of wheels back on and add some more.

We find that four wheels on the case work well and our traveller doesn’t have to lift any of the weight of their luggage at all.

But after a while they get tired from still having to pull the heavy luggage around, so we come up with our next idea. We add a motor to the case and give our traveller a remote-control device. That’s fun at first but then our traveller loses control of the case, and it crashes into a wall.

Back to the drawing board. We need to think of something that means our traveller doesn’t have to walk too much….So we come up with a plan to strap the traveller to their luggage and use a catapult to fire them both where they need to be!

However, that really is not a success, and our traveller has to spend a few minutes recovering from their experience. We spend the time thinking about how we might safely move both the traveller and their luggage around the airport. One thing they did like about the catapult experience was being able to keep an eye on their luggage.

So undeterred, we bring back the wheels….and the motor…make everything a bit bigger….and we make an electric vehicle to carry our traveller and their luggage around the airport. Our traveller proceeds effortlessly through the airport with their heavy case alongside them.

The threshold concept of iterative experimentation is a way of understanding the important role of trial and error in establishing what offers value to others.

*See: Marton, F., Runesson, U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2004). The space of learning. In F. Marton, A. B. M. Tsui, P. P. M. Chik, P. Y. Ko, & M. L. Lo (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum.

**See the work of Saras Sarasvathy at concerning the principle of affordable loss

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