Experiments & Psychological Safety

Business leaders are looking for team members who can come up with new ideas and new ways to solve problems. Creativity at the workplace seems to be a real need. Are creative people in short supply at organisations today? What can teams do to enhance creativity? We looked at research and practical experiences to identify elements and practices which can help enhance creativity in organisations. We found that Experiments and Psychological safety are two means to enhance creativity. And these two are closely interlinked and enhance each other too! Lets explore more in this edition of the Agile OWL.


Creativity is defined as “a special form of information-seeking distinguished by the fact that it is internally motivated” (Loewenstein, 1994Oudeyer & Kaplan, 2007).Curiosity in the workplace, meanwhile, increases engagement and enjoyment of your job and reduces your risk of burnout.

Having worked with and led teams, people who regularly come up with new ideas are:

  • Are curious. They are looking around to see what else is out there. What are other teams doing? even from different industries.
  • Consider many ideas. They never stop at just one idea. they consider many possibilities before choosing one.
  • Not hesitant to share and try the ideas. They are willing to take the risk of speaking up or trying something new.
  • And do not mind the extra effort that comes with trying something new :).
  • They also know and trust that their manager will acknowledge/ not penalise them for the idea and effort.

Look closely at the research led definition and practical demonstration of creativity. You will spot two elements standing out –

  1. The employees feel safe psychologically and
  2. They are open to experiments and to try.

Experiments and Psychological Safety

“Try it, I don’t know how it will work” these words from my manager were music to my years. I would take ideas to this manager constantly. Even when I stopped reporting to him. He would be my first port of call to discuss ideas. Why?

Because I was sure I would not be judged for my ideas. I felt safe speaking to him about many half formed ideas also. Plus, he would also encourage me to experiment, to simply try. He would say “Try, we will know what part works and what doesn’t and we can iterate next edition”. Thanks to this, experimenting and iterating were becoming default ways of working.

Here is where it gets more interesting – Psychological safety (how we feel) helps increase the team’s ability to experiment (how we work). And experimenting (how we work) increases psychological safety.

Psychological Safety and experiments

Experiments and psychological safety in tandem enhance creativity in teams. And creativity at work leads to many outcomes, including better business results. Lots of research pointing to it here. Including a curiosity report!

Practices to enhance psychological safety

Here are a few ways of working drawn from our experiences with experimentation and building safe spaces that can be leveraged to enhance creativity in teams.

Each of these practices build on top of each other, creating a virtuous cycle. If there is only thing that you put in place from this, let it be the ability to have blameless and open conversations within the team.

Agile Stories

Spotify, a leading audio streaming and media services company, uses experiments and agile methodologies extensively in the way they work. In fact the Spotify model was quite a rage a while back.

Here is a story of the experiments Spotify conducted to increase subscribers in Germany. Spotify had long been trying to make inroads into the Germany market. They had done search ad optimization and a few other things, not with great success.

Spotify mapped their customer’s journey in Germany and found that the most streamed type of content (in Germany) wasn’t music but audiobooks!

Spotify experimented with building a custom landing page, to show these users they have a wide selection of audiobooks. Also that the experience of listening to these audiobooks is even better with a premium subscription.

Results? This experiment and test landing page increased premium subscriptions by 24%. It was then deployed on the Spotify page.

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