Entrepreneurs as scientists? If so, how?

I read a really interesting article today in Portuguese:

O Cientista Empreendedor – Transformando idéias em negócios

In this article, the author Venancio Velloso discusses how entrepreneurs can develop their businesses by being more like scientists. Now I am still learning Portuguese, and also you can not always rely on Google or other translators for really good quality translations, but here I think is the gist of his argument.

  • Many startups create a business plan but then fail to find funding and investment for their ideas
  • Could the development of a business plan be over-rated?
  • The main reason why a business survives is by generating an income
  • Often business plans fail to accurately reflect reality, and hence many businesses fail when predicted incomes fail to be generated
  • The best way to prove a hypothesis (the assumptions in a business plan) are to test them
  • One of the best examples of this is Bill Gates, who copied the operating system of Apple and then distributed it on PCs
  • Another great example of a scientist-enrepreneur is Mark Zuckerberg who “validated” his first version of his social network which went viral within hours of its launch at Harvard
  • Therefore in order to transform your idea into a real business you need to carry out an “experiment” to see if there is real demand for it

Here is the model that Velloso uses in his article to describe the scientific method:

On a superficial level, Velloso simply seems to be saying that in business, if you think you have a good idea for a business, then do some market research. I am not so sure about his choice of examples, since both Microsoft and Zuckerberg copied other ideas, although they then transformed these ideas into working businesses (although future revenue predictions for Facebook as we have now seen could well be greatly hyped).

Is market research the same thing as what most of us think of as scientific methodology, as shown in the chart above? I would say not, and I would also say that in fact there is no such thing as “science” – there are many different sciences all with their own methodologies, protocols, paradigms, frameworks and theories.

In Velloso’s article I did not see any reference to carrying out controlled experiments, in very artificial environments, the aim of which is to isolate single factors which can explain the hypothesis. In this respect the examples he cites are very far from being anything we can recognise as “scientific”.

Where I do totally agree with Velloso though is that business can learn a huge amount from science, although my explanation of why and how is not based on what seems to be his emphasis on “naive empiricism.” Naive empiricism is very closely aligned to our common sense view of the world. In this world view, there is an external world consisting of separate objects. Through light and our eyes and nervous system, we are able to perceive images of this external world and thus know things about it, such as how fast objects fall due to gravity, their weights, and what things are made of (atoms).

The holonomic platform

The holonomic platform

Let’s have a look at this. I help businesses, entrepreneurs and executives to become more creative in their thinking by becoming more scientific. I do this by helping them explore the history of science, and in understanding the creative process within science, how scientists exploit their intuitive and perceptual faculties in developing their theories. I also help these same people avoid the traps of scientific dogma, of becoming too blinkered and trapped into one way of thinking, one way of seeing and understanding the world.

If we look at the nascent disciplines of chaos and complexity theory, these are decimating previous notions of causality, predictability, determinism and basically, our world views of reality. I help people to really explore these new sciences, with the objective of shaking off their old and limiting world views, and hence restructuring their mental models of reality. For when you look at science, this is indeed what scientists have battled with over the centuries (although it could be argued that what we now know today as science only really started when Darwin almost single-handedly shook science free from the control of the then utterly dominant Church).

One book that very much captures this thinking is David Bohm and F. David Peat’s “Science, Order and Creativity”. When I read this book, I realised that it could quite easily have been titled “Business, Science, Order and Creativity”. What is the creativity that this book discusses? It is the creative act of perception, being able to break out of previously restricting dogmas and paradigms, of seeing reality in a new way which enables previously intractable seeming problems and paradoxes to be solved.

In this manner, entrepreneurs and anyone in business should study the history of science, for to study the history of science is to discover the great leaps of intuition made by some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived. It is to discover that in fact reality is not how we naively conceive of it, that the universe is not created like a giant piece of clockwork, which if experimented upon, we can utterly predict, control and dominate. Life is not like that.

Life is organic, dynamic and non-linear, and therefore to understand life, we have to therefore learn to think organically, to see organically, and to learn how to understand chaotic and complex systems. This understanding can only be acquired once we learn to see in new ways, and this can only be done at the very fundamental level of changing our mental models. If we do not change our mental models, if we become stuck in a mechanistic way of understanding the world, if we do not learn that in fact much of science progresses through great creative and intuitive leaps of insight and not just through mechanical and reductionist experimentation and logical thinking, then we will never reach the higher states of consciousness and thinking, those realms of true creativity, freedom of thought, and truly creative dialogue that we desperately need now in order to work together on global problems facing us all.

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