Life and Business Skills—Coming Straight From Your High School Science Class
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
Think back and ask yourself a question—do you remember the scientific method?
C’mon, you probably remember it. You know, it is that thing you talked about in science class or tried to understand in your lab.
It is that process where you come up with an idea (otherwise called a hypothesis) and then try to prove it right or wrong. It is a pretty cool concept, right?
Why? Because whether your hypothesis was correct or not, it did not really matter—if you followed the correct methodology, took the right steps, and did it all by the book, you could technically be wrong but still get an A+.
We sort of love that way of thinking. Why do we not still use that in other parts of our lives?
Understanding the Scientific Method: What Exactly Is It?
In our opinion, “The Scientific Method” sounds more like a game show question than something describing life or business skills.
You can see where we are coming from with that, right?
“For $10,000 and the championship title, name the six common steps in the Scientific Method!”
Yep. Right about then you would be wishing you had paid just a little more attention in Mrs. Benson’s 11th Grade Chemistry Lab instead of daydreaming about who you would go to prom with.
So, for all those who were distracted during that part of class, we are going to offer a little refresher.
According to Merriam-Webster, the Scientific Method is defined as the principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
Sounds like a pretty easy way to go through life, does it not?
In our opinion, it is. And honestly, that is probably why we forgot all about our friend the Scientific Method immediately after science class or spending time in the lab.
But if you try to hang in here with us as we explain where we are coming from, we think you will see that the Scientific Method is truly a must-implement strategy when we run into problems in work or in life.
The Scientific Method got us all an easy A in high school—so this blog is probably worth a read, right?
So, why not give it a try?
Let us start by laying out the steps. (As a note, some people say there are six steps, some say eight—let us split the difference and go with seven, huh?)
Observe (the world or situation around you)
Ask a question (stemming from that observation)
Do some research (so you have an idea of what you are thinking about)
Form a hypothesis (a theory related to your observation)
Design and conduct an experiment to test your hypothesis
Analyze your results
If your results proved your hypothesis correct—you win! Go do that thing! If your results proved your hypothesis false—you still win! Go back to step #4 and try a different hypothesis.
The point of the method is that if you follow the steps and do them with precision, you can never really be wrong.
This relates to life pretty directly. Think about it, most of us are hesitant in our lives to do all sorts of things—take chances, try new activities, speak up—because we so desperately do not want to be wrong.
In fact, lots of us think something like, “I cannot afford to fail.”
We have all been there—it is just human nature.
A classic example of this type of behavior comes from Thomas Edison. Did he fail at inventing the light bulb? Was he wrong when he tried cotton as the filament for the lightbulb? No, it was just another hypothesis in a long line of hypotheses that proved his idea false.
However, he just went to step #4 and changed his idea. Bamboo was the natural filament that ultimately became the winner in the Edison Lightbulb. Even if you use an incandescent bulb today, it will have tungsten as the filament of choice.
Implementing the Scientific Method: How to Use it Every Day
How can we start using this method daily and in all aspects of our lives?
First off, we need to know the steps in order—this is very important. Secondly, we should feel comfortable enough to state that we do not know the answer but that we will be looking at and analyzing data so that we can make the best and most informed decision.
In business—most of the time—we are all just trying to make the best, most-informed, educated guess at any given time so that we can solve the challenges that the marketplace throws at us.
A great example of this? The company Uber. Yes, the ride-sharing company that disrupted the entire taxi system prevalent throughout the world. That Uber.
The idea for Uber was born in December 2009. The eventual co-founders were in Paris when a snowstorm hit the city. Like in most major cities around the globe, trying to hail a cab during a storm is typically a hit-or-mostly-miss event (Observation).
The two co-founders asked themselves, “Why can we not open our phone and tap a button and find an affordable taxi?” (Question).
UberCab was what they originally formed. After a few months they dropped the cab portion from the name because they reasoned that since they were not a cab company in any traditional sense, that part of the name did not fit (Research).
Their original idea was to create an app that would allow you to get a taxi right from your phone, all a user had to do was tap a button (Hypothesis).
After a short period of time doing this (Experiment), they realized (Analysis) that getting people to drive their own cars (New Hypothesis) would be the only way to scale the business.
So, Uber was launched.
Today, the ride-sharing industry is a $90 billion industry. The original idea that came to them in a snowstorm is not exactly what developed into our modern interpretation, but still—were the two founders wrong? Did they fail?
Not at all! They implemented the scientific method and just keep trying different ideas that spun off their original thought. They were not wrong and they did not fail; instead, they kept coming up with ideas, testing them, and following what the data told them. We are willing to bet that if you take the time to look around, you will find a ton of other relevant examples of the Scientific Method being used.
So, we are going to challenge you. Let us all be courageous this week—look around in our workplaces (Observation) and see if we can not come up with a solution (Hypothesis) that may remedy a problem.
Let us tell our coworkers, bosses, or friends that we have an idea that may solve the problem and we are going to test out the idea. If it works—that is great, you are officially the new problem solver. If it does not, no worries—you can try looking at the data and opting for a new solution once you analyze the results.
It makes sense, right? Why would someone not want their employees thinking about creative, exciting ways to solve problems?
Ultimately, it is all about how we present our hypotheses.
You cannot be wrong if you never said you were right from the start. Present the idea or the hunch you have as a possible solution—something you would love to test out. That is how innovation works in the marketplace.
But more than that, that is how life works in our social structure. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to come up with the best way to achieve answers to our questions in life.
Has the current pandemic not shown us that we need to keep trying different ideas to ultimately solve the questions that are facing all of us? To solve the questions we do not even know we should be asking about yet?
See? The Scientific Method is not just for 11th Grade Chemistry class. We believe we should be using it every day to assist us in making evidence-based decisions!
If you would like to send us a few of your examples of how you used the scientific method to solve some of your pressing problems or you would like to know how you can use evidenced based decision making in your business or life – drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org We all have a Mrs. Benson to thank from high school!