The #1 thing business can (and should) learn from science

As someone who’s now a business consultant, but originally trained in a scientific discipline (physical chemistry if you need to know), I’m usually pleasantly surprised that my formal scientific training has been very applicable in the business world.  So I’m going to give up what that, admittedly pretty simple, edge is – Scientific Method

See, in most BSc courses, you slowly (don’t ask me why they don’t teach it by itself) pick up the scientific method, which is a body of knowledge to investigate phenomena (stuff that happens).  The process usually cycles repeatedly through the following steps:

  1. Find phenomena that you want to understand (more)
  2. See what information there is about this phenomena, or similar phenomena
  3. Collect data of the phenomena using whatever methodology seems appropriate
  4. Construct a hypothesis as to why this phenomena occurs
  5. Test your hypothesis through experiment and data analysis (start again if it doesn’t)
  6. Draw conclusions

Obviously the methodologies differ (e.g. substitute spectroscopy for market research), but I thinkthis process is pretty applicable to any business phenomena (ensuring you use the appropriate level of analysis to task) that you would like to understand more.

If I can make one more point about another thing that scientists could teach business (and the general public for that matter), it’s that:

Everything is a theory, nothing is a law.

All this means is that you should never get attached to your ideas/descriptions, they might work today, or in a very specific context but there will be a better explanation down the track, hopefully you’ll have something to do with that one too.

I’ll make a little comment that this thinking probably isn’t that new, in fact I’ve found a few blog posts on the topic including this great one.

p.s. For the pedants out there, the one component that doesn’t directly (although this isn’t a deal breaker for me) translate from the scientific method to business which I therefore left out is the concept of repeatability.  Usually market processes are irrepeatable, and must be estimated from historical data (this is the one shortfall of economics in general really).  Maybe some six sigma master ninjas would disagree with me…


2 Comments on “The #1 thing business can (and should) learn from science”

  1. […] and launch. The way to do this is to experiment. In a really nice post, Andrew Dick talks about how to use the scientific method in business, including these steps: 1. Find phenomena that you want to understand (more) 2. See what […]

  2. […] by Robert Sutton of Stanford U, which stated the need for evidence before action.  Now as my previous post stated I’m a big believer in scientific method or “evidence based management” […]

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