February 2015 ยท 3 minute read

What if everything you knew was wrong?

One of the things I’ve always been intrigued by was how the space of theoretical science works. Take some observations, build a “what if” scenario and then start building on that to see how well that scenario fits with enough “what if” additions to fill in the gaps. Not surprisingly some of this science over time is deemed fairly wrong and it’s that idea that stuck with me. Over time I’ve seen that the business world moves in a very similar way.

In business and more particularly my field (software development) we start with a few known constants and build around it whole platforms and companies. These are built on the foundations that the ideas applied are the best or sometimes the only possible ways.This morning I was thinking to myself self that for years I have undergone an exercise periodically that hinges on the idea of what if it was all wrong? I at times apply this to nearly every part of my life - business, projects or how I live my life.

When I do this, I not only put the joins of process and the ideas of why under scrutiny but also the grounding unshakable constants for these, questioning what if they weren’t actually constants? With that comes the urge to reassess and the best part of reassessing is you start with an increased domain knowledge and experience to better assess the whole situation by.

Working stage by stage through a process I start to see the pieces fit back together and sometimes its worth trialling a new idea just to see if it still works. This sometimes feels like the development of genetic algorithms. Does it outperform the last iteration? Yes. Sample it and try the next round of change. Sometimes wind it right back as you hit a dead end issue.

As a surprising coincidence today I started listening to a new podcast by Jordan harbinger called the Art of Charm and he was interviewing Isaac Tolpin. They discussed the topic of reproductive thinking - the idea that you are basing your incremental change and thinking on what you though before. He too was pushing for “positive disruption” or really shaking that thinking up which was fantastic to hear as it validates my thoughts from a different angle.

To explain my take, a science teacher once told my class (as a bit of a random thought more than a lesson) that over and over again we have claimed things can’t be done - and then they were. When these scientists claimed their ideas, they were backed by an interpretation of science and they were confident they were right and often pushing that theirs was the only way (just look at string theory).

Whilst I admire the confidence, I never want to feel so arrogant as to believe I have the best or the only solution. In software even more so, as the environment is constantly changing around us.

Part of Tolpin’s point boiled down was that true improvement is best achieved by looking to make real and significant change, not inching the current system bit by bit.

How ever you want to look at the problem it’s worth wondering, is everything I believe still right?