Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Power of Theories

I was recently reminded of how much anti-intellectualism is present around me (how naive of me). Some find it cool to reject models and theories as mere mental masturbation. Abstractions would make unnecessarily complex what is otherwise straight-forward. I believe Eric Reis, who recently published the book The Lean Startup (2011), must have encountered a similar resistance when preaching for his product development and innovation model. Here is an excerpt of his book:
"Knowing Lean Startup principles makes me feel like I have superpowers. Even though I'm just a junior employee, when I meet with corporate VP's and GMs in my large company, I ask them simple questions and very quickly help them see how their projects are based on fundamental hypotheses that are testable. In minutes, I can lay out a plan they could follow to scientifically validate their plans before it's too late. They consistently respond with 'Wow, you are brilliant. We've never thought to apply that level of rigor to our thinking about new products before.'" 
As a result of these interactions, [this junior employee] has developed a reputation within his large company as a brilliant employee. This had been good for his career but very frustrating for him personally. Why? Because although he is quite brilliant, his insights into flawed product plans are due not to his special intelligence but to having a theory that allows him to predict what will happen and propose alternatives. He is frustrated because the managers he is pitching his ideas to do not see the system. They wrongly conclude that the key to success is finding brilliant people like him to put on their teams. They are failing to see the opportunity he is really presenting them: to achieve better results systematically by changing their beliefs about how innovation happens. (p. 276) (bold emphasis mine)
The key question is not whether you adopt a belief system or not, it is whether you consciously choose one or stay subject to the one you've been inculcated.