I'd argue that this is one of the most important mental models in our collection, after all, it holds the key to better understanding everything. I know, that's a big call — but seriously, the world would be transformed if humanity consistently embraced the Scientific Method.
The Scientific Method is a systematic way of learning about the world and answering questions which involves establishing and testing a hypothesis through experimentation.
While the specifics steps will vary from source to source, the scientific method essentially includes the following six steps:
- Question. This will define an area of concern or interest to explore or the problem that needs to be solved..
- Research. This often involves a review of relevant work, with emphasis on the credibility of sources and validity of the studies.
- Hypothesis. This is an educated guess, based on available evidence, to explain what has been observed. It is often described in terms of cause and effect and serves as a focus for further investigation.
- Prediction. This involves establishing a tentative, testable outcome based on the hypothesis. It is often written as an ‘if’ ‘then’ statement — ’if’ this hypothesis is true, ‘then’ we will see x, y and z. A key element of predictions is that they must be falsifiable, that is able to be disproved based on testing.
- Test. These consist of experiments to test to prove or disprove the hypothesis based on the predicted outcomes.
- Analyse & Iterate. Sort through the data and results before either updating the hypothesis or publishing or sharing the results.
The scientific method relies on the ability for tests to be replicated and the same results to be achieved by other similar experiments. In addition, it generally relies on controlling variables — so experimenting in a ‘closed environment’ where the main variable being tested relates to the hypothesis in question. That said, there has been a rise of field, or ‘real world’ experiments, in domains such as behavioural science.
IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.
The Scientific Method is premised on curiosity and openness about the world around us. Asking questions about things that most people simply accept is the beginning of a scientific mind.
Develop and test hypotheses.
Rather than seeing your views as fixed, use hypotheses, or a proposed explanation, that you can set up conditions to test. For example, when considering a new product you might have a hypothesis about a customer need that you are addressing. Using The Scientific Method would involve setting up a test to validate or falsify that hypothesis.
Seek evidence, remain open to contradicting data.
Applying The Scientific Method involves actively seeking data and evidence to prove or disprove your theories. It means remaining open to the evidence, wherever it might take you.
Millikan and Einstein.
There are countless examples of The Scientific Method I could point to across history — it's behind almost every major technical or conceptual advance humanity has made. But I particularly like the story of Millikan and Einstein.
In 1905 Einstein published a paper on the particle theory of light including what is known as the photoelectric equation. Robert Millikan, an American experimental physicist, did not believe it because of the vast evidence that light was a wave. He consequently set up experiments to disprove Einstein's hypothesis. Instead, his experiments confirmed the theory and Millikan won a Nobel Prize for his efforts. It's a story of how someone followed where the scientific method led them, despite their preconceived ideas.
Application is everywhere, but not enough.
The Scientific Method is used by countless evidence-based practitioners in diverse fields… and yet we wish it were used more!
A simple example might involve how we develop ModelThinkers. Let's work through the stages we might explore as part of applying a scientific method.
- Question: How might we deliver a service and product more relevant and valuable to our customers?
- Research: We can consider other products, competitor activity, interview and/or observe users, survey users, analyse usage data etc.
- Hypothesis: We might establish a hypothesis that users will highly value the addition of audio content as part of offer.
- Prediction: our prediction might be ‘if we include audio on 15 model pages, those model pages will gain greater sharing metrics/ usage/ comments by x, y and z per cent over a 4 week period.
- Test: We can implement the above hypothesis on 15 pages. Trying to control for variables such as popular models or random shares etc..
- Analyse and iterate: This involves looking through the data and looking for patterns and explanations. Iterating our hypothesis and test as required.
A major impediment against using The Scientific Method lies in pre-existing beliefs which alter the interpretation of results, often as a form of the Confirmation Heuristic. It's not a criticism of the method, more of those who try to wield it.
The scientific method is a foundation of science and has informed other evidence-based practices in data, social sciences, behavioural economics etc..
Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave the scientific method into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above.
- Confirmation bias: the scientific method can fall victim of and defend against this and other biases.
- First principles and Occam’s razor: to identify basic premises with as few assumptions as possible.
- The map is not the territory: understanding the complexity of life versus the theories we use to explain them.
- A/B testing: a form of scientific method.
- Falsification: the process of disproving a hypothesis.
- RAT and prototypying: to identify the key assumptions to explore and test.
- Occams razor and first principles: in terms of exploring and testing assumptions.
- Munger’s latticework: use the scientific method to test and falsify models.
- Feedback loops: using data and feedback to test hypotheses.
- Catalysts: identifying actual catalysts through experimentation.
Read The Scientific Method in Practice by Hugh G. Gauch Jr., about the theory and practice of the scientific method. Have less time, try this short video from the great Neil Degrasse Tyson who uses a story about hot chocolate and whipped cream to explain the scientfic method.
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