As far as hypothesis are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose, and depart from this study a greater fool than when he entered it. Andreas Osiander's (editor) preface to De Revolutionbus, Copernicus, in To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Steven Weinberg
In the realm of project, product, and business management we come across nearly endless ideas conjecturing to solve some problem or another.
Replace the word Astronomy with what ever word those conjecturing a solution will fix some unnamed problem.
From removing the smell of dysfunction, to increasing productivity by 10 times, to removing the need to have any governance frameworks, to making decisions in the presence of uncertainty without the need to know the impacts of those decisions.
In the absence of any hypothesis by which to test those conjectures, leaving a greater fool than when entering is the likely result. In the absence of a testable hypothesis, any conjecture is an unsubstantiated anecdotal opinion.
An anecdote is a sample of one from an unknown population
And that makes those conjectures doubly useless, because they can not only not be tested, they are likely applicable only the those making the conjectures.
If we are ever to discover new and innovative ways to increase the probability of success for our project work, we need to move far away from conjecture, anecdote, and untestable ideas and toward evidence based assessment of the problem, the proposed solutions and the evidence that the propsed correction will in fact result in improvement.
One Final Note
As a first year Grad student in Physics I learned a critical concept that is missing from much of the conversation around process improvement. When an idea is put forward in the science and engineering world, the very first thing is to do a literature search.
- Is this idea recognized by others as being credible. Are there supporting studies that confirm the effectiveness and applicability of the idea outside the authors own experience?
- Are those supporting the idea, themselves credible, or just following the herd?
- Are there references to the idea that have been tested outside the authors own experience?
- Are there criticisms of the idea in the literature? Seeking critics is itself a critical success factor in testing any ideas. There would be knock down drag out shouting matches in the halls of the physics building about an idea. Nobel Laureates would be waving arms and speaking in loud voices. In the end it was a test of new and emergent ideas. And anyone who takes offense to being criticized, has no basis to stand on for defending his idea.
- Is the idea the basis of a business, e.g. is the author selling something. A book, a seminar, consulting services?
- Has this idea been tested by someone else. We'd tear down our experiment, have someone across the country rebuild it, run the data and see if they got the same results.
Without some way to assess the credibility of any idea, either through replication, assessment against a baseline (governance framework, accounting rules, regulations), the idea is just an opinion. And like Daniel Moynihan says:
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
and of course my favorite
Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history" — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts! - Robert Heinlein (1978)