What I learned using “controlled environments” to launch successful projects and test ideas

I learned about the “controlled environment” concept in the zombie movies, where they show some kind of virus or disease spreading around the world and everything becoming mayhem because something wrong happened with the controlled environment where the virus was being tested and stored.

According to the Oxford dictionary, a controlled environment is an environment which is artificially regulated to ensure conditions such as temperature, air quality, etc., remain stable; the condition or state of such an environment.

So it’s basically a context where you can control variables to see the outcome of an experiment, and how that outcome changes if you change a variable.

The interesting thing is that we can apply this concept to anything we want. We can make experiments in any context we want.

Professional athletes make experiments when they are training, successful companies make experiments when they are building a new product, we all make experiments (sometimes being unaware of that).

But there’s a difference between those successful companies or those professional athletes and us: Most of the times, we don’t use controlled environments for our experiments. If we did, we would be more confident. There would be more people creating things, doing what they’ve always wanted to do. Why? Because a big component of why people don’t dare to do the things they want to do is because they know there’s a great chance they won’t succeed.

They just create that assumption, but they never test it…

What would happen if we could create a controlled environment to test the ideas and the projects we want to work on? If companies do it before launching a new product, why can’t we replicate that?

I don’t pretend to come up with a breakout idea or something revolutionary. It’s obvious that before we do something, it would be a good idea to test, and somehow we already do it:

– Before making a public presentation, maybe you test your speech with your mom so she can give you feedback.

-Before making a pitch to investors to try to raise money for your company, you make the pitch to your friends or your company partners.

Yes, it’s great that you do those tests, but it would be better if you can come up with a controlled environment where you could test more variables, and be aware of possible outcomes that you haven’t considered before.

Creating a controlled environment to test your ideas

The great thing about a controlled environment is that you can be very specific about the things you want to test, and you can dissect every element of your idea.

So, how to create an ideal controlled environment?

  1. Use variables you feel comfortable with, and A / B test those variables. In this simulated environment, you can be free to make the changes you want and test different set-ups for the variables.

If your fear is to speak in public, let’s see which variables you can control and how to A / B test those variables:

-The number of people in your audience: If you are going to be a speaker in a 100 people event, create a controlled environment and invite 10 people you feel comfortable with. Doing this, you can measure how much of the anxiety and the fear you have is directly correlated with the number of people you are going to talk to.

-The order and the way you structure your presentation: As you are presenting with people you are confident with, in this controlled environment you can test the structure of your presentation and the order of the things you are presenting. Try different structures and ask for feedback.

-The introduction of your presentation: If you don’t amuse your participants since the first moment, you will bore your audience. Use this controlled environment to test different types of intros and ask for feedback.

-The closing of your presentation: If you don’t end your presentation with a strong statement, people will forget you and your message. Your presentation won’t have any impact. Try different ways for that closing and ask for feedback.

You can also test and ask for feedback about your voice tone, about how fast or slow you are talking, about your body posture, etc. In a controlled environment, you can test dozens of variables in a short period of time in a very effective way.

  1. Try to look for variables with a similar profile as the ones in the real environment. To have a better approach to the real environment, use a similar profile for the variables in your controlled environment.

It’s great you count on your grandma to give you feedback, but if you are making a presentation targeted to millennials in the design industry, you should look for an adequate audience to build your controlled environment. Maybe those friends of your cousin who is a designer, or maybe you can go to a design school and ask 10 students to give you 15 minutes of their time to hear your presentation in exchange for a couple of beers.

  1. Identify specific pain points. The important thing with this exercise is not to do it perfectly, the idea is to identify those specific pain points and the specific things of why you don’t feel comfortable doing something.

Yes, you know you don’t like to talk in public, but you have never taken the time to do the research of the details and specific things of why you don’t like it.

Having a controlled environment to test the different variables, you will be able to go deeper and try to find what’s the specific reason of why you have that fear:

– Is it because you are afraid that you will block and look ridiculous in front of everyone?

-Is it because you have problems memorizing your speech and you often forget the structure and the order of what you need to say?

-Is it because you are afraid that, after your speech, people could talk and say that you were not enough prepared and you didn’t deserve to make that speech?

-Is it because you have a tick that makes you speak funny when you are talking in public?

As you see, there are different types of reasons of why you are afraid of doing something. And with a controlled environment, it will be easy to dissect and work on that fear.

At the end, it’s all about having a safe environment to make mistakes and to be judged, to look for important things you haven’t considered before, so when it’s time to act in the real environment, you can be prepared for war.

That’s how Spartans used to do it, that’s how professional athletes do it: “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war”.