Tried and true business practices often prevail in the boardroom, but adopting a scientific mindset can yield new results for anyone facing business setbacks. With a doctorate in Chemical Engineering and five years of experience leading sensor research for a multi-million-dollar scientific instrument company, I’ve come to learn that science is more than just beakers and test tubes – it's a culture fostering curiosity and analytical decision-making.
A six-step process that has been used by scientists for centuries, the scientific method is the tried-and-true way of thinking that scientists use to observe the world around us and answer questions. But in addition to helping us better grasp ideas in fields like chemistry, biology and physics, the methodology and mindset of scientists can benefit individuals at a c-suite level. I know this because I have moved on to recreate myself as an entrepreneur by founding Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More, a nationally franchised business with more than 100 locations across the United States.
While running a boardroom is very different from running a research department, the skills I learned as a scientist have been invaluable to my team and their growth. Here are three practices used by scientists that business owners can apply to their own work:
1. Approach everything with curiosity.
The scientific method involves three steps prior to executing any experiment: making an observation, identifying a problem, and creating a hypothesis. These three steps are crucial to the initiation of any scientific endeavor because they force scientists to utilize theories and other scientific discoveries from prior experimentation. For example, before conducting a research experiment on detection of toxins in water our team looked into past research on air-borne analyses. This practice encouraged our team to forego our own biases while taking the work of colleagues into consideration.
This practice translates incredibly well into the business world because just like with scientists, it forgoes the perceived judgement of others in favor of data-driven decision making. Whether you’re a c-suite exec for a nationally franchised business or an up-and-coming start-up owner, identify the successes and shortcomings of your colleagues and competitors and apply them to your own hypotheses. A smart entrepreneur will be able to build upon past findings for their own business to grow it to success.
2. Be comfortable with failure.
Learning from setbacks is a natural occurrence in scientific experimentation, even the scientific legends like Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin were familiar with failure.
After experimentation, the next steps in the scientific method asks researchers if their hypothesis was proved true or false, and why their hypothesis resulted as such. An experiment that results in a hypothesis being proven false may be perceived as a failure but actually has as much value to the scientific community as if it were proven true. These moments allow researchers to understand factors they would have never considered before, and improve their experiment for continued research.
Business owners should learn to apply this mindset into their own work because both practices require the ability to solve problems that involve uncertainty. When business owners apply a growth mindset into their own work ethic, they can pinpoint where exactly in their process needs to be adjusted, and make changes to help propel their business past their failure and towards new heights. As we say around the office, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.
3. Seek the insight of your peers.
From identifying a problem to reaching one’s conclusion, every step that a scientist takes in their experimentation is recorded in thorough detail. This is because science encourages colleagues to share their findings with one another, either through peer reviewed journals, lectures, or mainstreamed publications. By doing this, scientists have the ability to learn from one another, and improve their own methodologies.
Furthermore, scientific experimentation is often a group effort that allows experts to shine in their own right. For example, as an engineer studying molecular structures, I would frequently collaborate with biochemists or physicists. This type of cross collaboration allowed me to learn from experts outside of my field and work towards discoveries that I would not be able to accomplish alone.
Today, being an entrepreneur, I find this practice frequently reinforced in my day-to-day work. If I am handed a challenge that is outside of my background, I reach out to teammates more familiar in that subject for advice. Frequent moments like these show an importance for proactively seeking out others, collaborating, and illustrating that you don’t have to take on burdens alone. The sum of your team can be more than equal to its parts.
The phrase, “business is both an art and a science,” may be overused, but it remains as valid today as the time it was first coined. When making important business decisions, having that ability to remain analytical unprejudiced and open to new ideas will make you a driving force in your workplace.
Tina Bacon-DeFrece, Ph.D. is the President and Co-Founder of Big Frog Franchise Group, and is responsible for strategic planning and tactical development for all aspects of the Big Frog Brand. Prior to her foray into franchising, Tina, as a Ph.D. Chemical Engineer, was a research director for a multimillion dollar scientific instrument company. Her responsibilities were to not only develop a full line of optical sensors, but to determine the profitability and marketability of the technologies.