Using your tools to design a culture change experiment

What will you do?


I think it is useful to think of the actions we take as experiments, because as we all know, a negative result from an experiment is just as valuable an insight as a positive result (even if it might be harder to publish). The fear of failure can prevent us from trying new things, but when we reframe these actions as experiments, we can become curious about the outcome, and design the action in a way that we can maximise learning, even if it doesn’t produce the intended outcome.


Throughout this book, I have asked you to identify actions you would like to take or conversations you would like to have. Now, I would like to invite you to draw a two-by-two matrix like the one below on a piece of paper, with a “can do” and “can’t do” column, and a row each for actions and conversations. Follow these instructions to identify an action you can design your experiment around:

  1. Write down the actions you’ve identified that you think you could do already in the left-hand column. These will be things that are within your own power, that you can do yourself;

  2. Where there is an action you can’t do yet or can’t do yourself, ask what the first step might be or who could help you get closer to being able to take that action. Write this down as a conversation you can have instead;

  3. Write any actions you can’t do or conversations you don’t feel ready to have yet in the right-hand column;

  4. Look at the conversations you want to have, and ask what actions might arise from that conversation, adding any missing actions to the relevant quadrant. Most of these will be actions you can’t do – that’s why you’re going to have the conversation. But sometimes you realise that there is an action that is likely to come out of a conversation that you could already do;

  5. Finally, look at all the actions and conversations you wrote in the “can’t do” box, and examine your assumptions. Why is this not possible and how might you overcome barriers to make it possible? As you examine these actions and conversations, move them, where possible, from “can’t do” to “can do”.


This process will hopefully lead to a number of concrete actions you could take already. Now you can choose an action and turn it into an experiment. You may want to select a number of related actions and build these into a single experiment, or you may want to focus on one thing. That doesn’t mean you can go through the same process for each of the other actions that are important to you, and run a few different experiments in parallel. Once you have chosen an action, answer these questions:

  1. What is the action? Describe exactly what you need to do in as much detail as possible. Are there any precursor steps or things you need to prepare first? Are there a few different steps or components to your action? What order do you need to do things in? Are there any alternative options that might be better?

  2. How can you make the action safe to try? What assumptions are you making that might not be valid? What could go wrong? How could you reduce those risks? What are your greatest strengths and skills, and how could you redesign your action to play more effectively to these strengths?

  3. What resources or help will you need? Do you have all the resources, skills, contacts and help you need? If not, who can you approach who might know where you can get what you need?

  4. What you will try first, with whom and when? The most important thing is that you do something now. So even if it is only a first small step, what is the thing you will do today or this week to get the ball rolling and start taking this action? Who will you work with? Having someone to bounce ideas off, help and be accountable to will increase your likelihood of a positive result. When will you take your first step?

  5. How will you know if it was beneficial or not? What does success look like? What are you trying to achieve and how will you know things are moving in the right direction initially? How will you know when you’ve achieved your action, and if the result is positive or negative? What could you measure, or who could you ask for feedback?