Succeed in Business by Thinking Like a Scientist

"If knowledge is power, knowing what we don't know is wisdom."
โ€“ Adam Grant

A thinking process is a set of steps and methods that a person uses to think, process information, and make decisions. Your personal thinking process is the single most important element for you to succeed in business. ย 

Every business decision you make requires the application of your thinking process. Deciding what product to build requires you to think about existing market problems and design a great solution. Deciding how to structure a big deal, go to market, or sell your product or service requires you to consider various information, think through tradeoffs, and formulate a final conclusion. Thus, your thinking process is really the foundation of your business.

That begs the question: how can you improve your thinking process, such that you can improve your business as a result? Or perhaps more generally, how can you think better? We will turn to scientists for answering this question.

Scientists are the epitome of effective thinking. They are trained to discover new knowledge in complex, uncharted domains. With hardly any prior information, a great scientist can uncover treasures that change our future. Such work mirrors the essence of great business.

Here are 4 techniques for thinking like a scientist that will help you succeed in business.

(1) Use hypotheses

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"
โ€“ Albert Einstein

Scientific experiments are based on the idea of creating and testing hypotheses. A hypothesis is a proposed idea made on limited information. The key here is that it is a proposed idea and limited information. Scientists recognize that there are limitations to what they can figure out through theory alone, so they go through the following process instead:

  1. Collect information
  2. Based on the limited information, make a hypothesis. In your business, it can be something like "I think our customers will love this new feature X."
  3. Test that hypothesis in a constrained experiment. In your business, you want to constrain the experiment by parameters like scope, time, budget, or number of users to test on
  4. If the hypothesis is correct, implement and scale it. If it is incorrect, drop it and move on to the next hypothesis

The typical way that people try to build their business is by making grand plans for the future. They map out what products they'll build and which markets they'll launch in over the next year, 3 years, even 5 or more years.

The problem with this strategy is that it creates big risks. You invest so much into making a theoretical plan and hoping that it works. But how will you know that it works if you haven't tried it before? Perhaps you're very confident... but you can't be 100% sure until it's 100% done. If it works then you'll be very happy. But if it doesn't, then you've just lost a huge investment of time, energy, and money.

Using hypotheses allows you to avoid that risk. You make a small hypothesis based on a constrained experiment, essentially a small bet. Then you give it a test. If it works, then great! You spent very little on getting something to work. If it doesn't work, then you haven't lost much since you didn't need to invest a lot of resources to begin with.

Hypothesis testing also allows you to learn faster. Your planning and experimenting phases are much smaller and shorter. Thus, you get feedback from the market more often and are able to adjust direction to find the best path.

Doing hypothesis testing releases you from being tied to your assumptions or plans. You can figure out what works definitively through real-world trial and error.

(2) Experiment, experiment, experiment

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
โ€• Franklin D. Roosevelt

A great scientist knows that it's unlikely they'll make a discovery on the first try... or the second... or even the third. In fact, big scientific breakthroughs often take hundreds, sometimes even thousands of attempts. It's just difficult to know what will work until you try it and see the results.

Since we don't know what works and we don't know how many tries it will take, the best strategy is to do as many experiments as possible.

  • Instead of quickly investing a lot into one business idea, try 10 different ones with small investments
  • Instead of coming out with a new, big feature every 6 months, build a new small feature every 3 weeks
  • Instead of trying to force your business onto a single social media channel, try 5 different ones at the same time

By doing more experiments, you are getting more frequent tangible feedback from the real world. You don't have to plan and guess how the market will react, you can literally see it based on the results.

Each time you do an experiment, you have a small chance of succeeding. Planning for longer might increase your chances on each attempt, but only marginally. On the other hand, your total chances of succeeding will add up quickly when you do many experiments.

Another key part of doing this is to optimize for doing more experiments in less time. If you can reduce the cost and amount of time it takes to complete an experiment, then you can get feedback from the market more frequently. This gives you information for fine-tuning your experiments and increasing your chances of succeeding on each attempt.

(3) Look for evidence

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
โ€• Aldous Huxley

A great scientist never assumes that something is true. They don't say "I know that people will love this" or "this is a great idea" or "we can assume that..." The only time a great scientist will say that something is true is when they see clear and substantial evidence of it.

Without evidence of its effectiveness, an idea is moot. Never assume anything about your customers, market, product, or business. Instead, do what a scientist would do: make a hypothesis, experiment, and objectively examine the evidence to see if it supports your hypothesis.

When doing so, make sure that you look for really strong evidence. Your mom and dad don't count as the market. Nor do the people online who say that they like what you offer. What matters at the end of the day is if people will pay for your product or service. If they do, then your idea is good. If they don't, then you have to rethink something or better yet, make a new hypothesis and experiment!

One thing to keep in mind is that just because something worked in the past doesn't mean that it will always work. You should constantly seek current evidence to make sure that what you're doing is working today, regardless of past results.

(4) Challenge yourself

โ€œIf you donโ€™t look back at yourself and think, โ€˜Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,โ€™ then you must not have learned much in the last year.โ€
โ€“ Ray Dalio

As humans, we're often quick to make assumptions and accept things. Once an idea is accepted, we tend to stick with it for a very long time. The problem with this is that over time we become stuck in our old ways, which is very dangerous in the ever-changing world of business.

A great scientist avoids this stagnation by deliberately challenging themselves. They will ask themselves:

  • "What evidence would prove my idea wrong?"
  • "Is my original assumption still valid today?"
  • "If X were to change, then what would happen to my conclusion?"

Such challenge-questions keep you honest and up-to-date. You are double-checking your ideas and editing your conclusions. You don't have to be married to your initial decisions; you can always change to adapt to the world around you. Doing so will give you two key benefits.

Firstly, it will help you think outside the box. Asking yourself challenge-questions puts you in a different frame of mind. You're now approaching the problem from a different angle than you did before, which helps you be more creative.

Secondly, it helps you become less wrong. Each time you challenge yourself, you give yourself the chance to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings. If you don't uncover anything bad, then you know you're on the right track. If you do uncover something bad, then at least you are now less wrong than you were before. That's real progress.

Final Words

A great scientist is the epitome of objective thinking. They are trained to develop the perfect thinking process for uncovering new knowledge in uncharted domains. We can learn a lot from their methods and apply them to succeed in business too.j Here are 4 techniques for thinking like a scientist that will help you succeed in business.

  1. Use hypotheses โ€“ Avoid theoretical plans; find out what works definitively through real-world trial and error
  2. Experiment, experiment, experiment โ€“ Optimize for making many attempts in less time to increase your chances of success
  3. Look for evidence โ€“ Judge your ideas and methods based on current, concrete evidence
  4. Challenge yourself โ€“ Deliberately challenge your assumptions and look for areas where you can correct any misunderstandings or mistakes

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