When you test something, you want to see if it works.
When you do an experiment, you want to understand how it works.
My daughter told me yesterday that she was running a test at school.
After the teacher explained the meaning of friendship to the class, at break she sat on a bench on her own in the playground, waiting to see if any of the children from her class would come and play with her. Apparently, all the children failed the test. She was left alone for the entire break. Her conclusion was that the rest of the children in her class didn’t understand the meaning of friendship. By leaving her on her own, they had shown that they didn’t care about her.
As you’ve probably observed, there are many assumptions about friendship and caring in this test. Some of these are questionable (for example, if you sit on your own on a bench and people don’t approach you it’s because they don’t care about you). As this assumption is disputable, so is the result of the test (“my classmates don’t understand friendship”).
Tests always come out with an answer at the end. However, we tend to forget that the most problematic part of testing is the assumptions behind the test.
Experimenting, on the other hand, has bad press. It seems that we don’t know what we are doing, like a sort of an entertainment.
Testing is worthless when it is based on wrong or questionable assumptions about the world (our product, our audience, or our service.)
Testing is better done with an experimental mindset which, rather than focusing exclusively on whether something works or not, goes deeper into understanding what our assumptions are helping us to achieve.
The freedom to learn while observing is the gift of an experimental mindset that wants to test its assumptions in the world.