Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niosh/2492023651/
Everyone loves science. Researchers, businessmen, journalists, PR and marketing people, everyone. Why? Because science is all about clever people in white coats “proving” your pet theory. Nothing sells the latest consultancy fad better than a tame PhD, and what kind of fool would pay £3 for an own-brand moisturiser when you can get one with Unobtanium QZ for only £30? Science sells.
Except it's not science, is it? Just like the snake oil salesman of old, con artists have always enjoyed dressing up in the clothes of science to rip off the unwary. Wearing a white coat and using complicated-sounding words does not make you a scientist any more than wearing a tutu makes me a ballerina.
So what does? There are hundreds of possible answers, but I think a defining feature is the willingness to be proved wrong. The ladybird version of science is that someone has a clever idea about how the world works, and then thinks of a way to test if the idea is true or not. The second part is the important bit—good ideas are ten a penny, but most of them are wrong.
Human beings are not very good at thinking like this. We are susceptible to something called confirmation bias, which means that we tend to notice information that confirms our preconceptions and discount the things that don't. So scientists have to be very careful to specify up front what their test is, and what different outcomes will mean for their idea.
Unfortunately, businesses are very reluctant to embrace the philosophy of science. Getting the authority of science by hiring PHDs and quoting figures to 5 decimal places is great, but the scientific method is hard. Worse still, facts have a distressing tendency not to tie in with the way we want the world to work.
So here's a challenge for you. Take your most cherished beliefs about your business and state them as hypotheses:
- Satisfied customers are more profitable
- Engaged employees have lower rates of absenteeism
and devise a test for them. Now the hard bit, if the test doesn't support your hypothesis, throw it out and start again. If it does (actually even if it doesn't), tell the world. Congratulations, you are now a scientist—white coats are available here.