The baked-in benefits of calling it an experiment

Writing a novel in a month was an experiment.

Reading the Bible cover to cover in a month was an experiment.

Finishing two BA degrees in three years total was an experiment.

Finishing an MA online in one year while living in Asia was an experiment.

I didn’t chronicle them here in real time, but they all were experiments. The benefit of calling these types of projects experiments is that it…

  • Sets a definite goal but not a result: Friends often ask what I want to accomplish from some of my experiments, especially some of the small things I try here and there that don’t end up on Marshallogue. I guess the best way to answer that is to point out that the experiments aren’t so much about the results at the end but about the journey through them. I mean, the results are important, but I experiment for the journey through the experiment, not because I expect a specific set of results.
  • Tracks your progress and results: This is crucial if you want to avoid repeating the same mistakes. If something seems to work, maybe try doing more of it. If something doesn’t work, switch to something that does, or just ditch that step altogether.
  • Establishes a time constraint: This is helps keep your project from expanding just because you have extra time. Keep things tight. It’s not just for scientists working in basement labs on projects no one will ever hear about.
  • Tests (and modifies) your assumptions: Scientists call it a hypothesis. I just call it a guess. Either way, when you call your project an experiment, you don’t get all attached to it, like your feelings will be hurt when it doesn’t work out. You can go where the project takes you instead of having to stick with the assumptions you had at the start, back when you didn’t know as much.
  • Gives permission to quit: This is probably the biggest benefit, and it follows from the previous one. You don’t have to keep doing everything you start doing. And you certainly don’t have to finish every experiment you start.
  • Allows weird projects: Just call it an experiment, and no one will mind that you’re off doing something crazy.

The more I’ve experimented with calling projects experiments, the more I like the approach. I suppose that might change someday, but for now, that assumption is holding pretty well, experiment after experiment.