A lesson in not assuming facts, and the value of constant experimentation in business.
In science, there are fundamental theories that we tend to hold as truth. Gravity would be a good example. We know that gravity is still a theory, but everyone understands with certainty what happens when you jump off a cliff.
In this way, science is very comfortable operating under the knowledge that nothing is ever certain. All facts are testable and contestable, even if they are embedded in the fabric of a field of study. It’s a fundamental philosophy that penetrates all scientific fields, and because of this, we continue to advance our scientific theories and understanding of the world.
A clear example of this philosophy in action can be found through the evolution of the theory of light. What started with Thomas Young’s original double slit experiment in 1801, led to a series of discoveries that went on to completely revolutionise physics.
In a very brief nutshell, Young’s initial experiment demonstrated that light traveled as a wave, disproving the centuries-old theorem that light traveled as a particle. Young’s findings then held true for decades until advancements in photoelectric theory suggested that light could indeed travel as a particle. The resulting experimentation demonstrated that not only can light exist as either a wave, a particle, or both, at the same time, but that the mere act of measuring light causes it to become one or the other.
These experiments basically broke physics as they created large contradictions in our understanding of special relativity. Even though we still don’t completely understand why sub-atomic particles behave in this way, the knowledge of how they do behave has had huge consequences for the world. It’s these experiments that have led to the field of quantum mechanics.
The key point here is that without questioning the commonly-held truths of physics, there was no way these discoveries into sub-atomic physics could have occurred. The quantum world (sub-atomic) has a completely different set of rules to the observable world and thus these results were completely unpredictable without such experimentation and questioning.
It is for this reason that we are fortunate that the discipline of science allows for the continual challenging of ‘fact’. The scientific community understands that such experiments progress our understanding of the world we live in and this is why they are always happy to challenge what they know to be true and change their opinions when necessary.
We often miss this in the corporate world. We can’t (don’t) often apply the same rigor and process to test and validate the fundamentals of our business models, products, markets, or how we do things, like we do in science. Often, we simply rely on what we observe and what information we can acquire through secondary means to inform our opinion of ‘fact’ within our businesses and within the broader economies. Because of this, it’s impossible to state that our fundamental theories, or those proposed by others, are ever completely correct with any certainty, and this is exactly why they should be openly subject to challenge.
We openly challenged all our assumptions at EMGN and we were always comfortable with re-inventing what we did. We experimented our way to a completely unique business model, which consequently allowed us to grow both revenue and profitability exponentially for years, without the need to raise capital. Many others followed more traditional models and lost millions. They couldn’t ever figure out how we did it.
To us it wasn’t rocket science, or magic, it was just the way we did it. Methodical testing and continually questioning everything we did. We saw this as a critical part of keeping up with what was a rapidly changing operating space. We had the freedom and discipline to measure and execute change as we needed, and this proved to be our greatest competitive advantage.
One must continually test what is ‘known to be true’ to gain a full understanding of what is actually true. Methodically and continually testing our assumptions of ‘fact’ is so important for us to innovate and improve our understanding of the worlds we operate in. Without re-evaluating the double slit experiment, and probing the held ‘truths’ about light, the scientific community would never have discovered the whole story of light and we wouldn’t have the field of quantum mechanics. Without such experimental curiosity in business, we may be missing our own ‘whole stories’, and the lost potential that can come from it.
About the author — Aidan Kenealy
My mission is to help those with high growth businesses realise their vision for success. I draw from the unique lessons learned growing EMGN to help founders and CEOs get the best out of what their businesses can be.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your business — please reach out via LinkedIn or email firstname.lastname@example.org