Guess and Check

Making progress in the absence of knowledge

ALL too often, and especially when starting out on a new project, the things we don’t know outnumber the things we do.

We may know very little and, in the absence of knowledge, we can become stuck.

Paralysis, our inability or unwillingness to make forwards progress, is the surest road to stagnation, difficulty and ultimate demise.

What can be done about it?

The scientific community, determined to break new ground, long ago developed a formal solution to its paralysis problem: the scientific method.

The scientific method, a trial and error process of guessing and checking, formally accepts that scientists have limited knowledge about the nature of reality.

The strength of the scientific method is that it allows scientists to make forwards progress even in the absence of knowledge. Scientists make an educated guess about what they believe is happening and then collect data and run experiments to try and prove themselves wrong.

Management consultants operate in much the same way.

Consultants will typically develop an early case hypothesis, their best guess about the source of an organisation’s problems, and then collect information to check if their hunch is correct.

In the absence of knowledge or swamped with too much information, scientists and consultants continue to successfully solve problems by accepting their limits.

Take a guess, and then check.