What Business People Get Wrong About the Scientific Method

Are you stuck? Work feel like a treadmill? Feel like you never get anywhere? Massive misrepresentation of the scientific process could be to blame. 

Business people talk a lot about getting all the facts. Getting all the facts sounds sciencey. People who forgot fifth-grade science class forget how the scientific method begins. 

The scientific methods begins with observation. Next comes a question: why? Then comes an explanation for what you observed.

You see an apple fall from a tree. You ask "why do apples fall down instead of up?" You invent an answer. A straw man. Then you investigate. 

If you began by gathering all the facts you'd never get past fact gathering. Facts are infinite. You'll never gather all the facts. Never in trillion years. Without an observation, a question, and a hypothosis, you don't know which facts to gather. You don't know where to start. 

A lot of work feels that way. How often do you say to yourself "I don't even know where to start?"

Business people who want all the facts are afraid. They're afraid of making a decision. They're afraid staking a position. They hope the facts make their decision for them. But the facts never do. Only people can make decisions. 

If you're on that treadmill, stop and get off. Observe. What's happening? Why? Why is it happening? 

Your brain will find answers to any "why" question. Try it. Write down what comes back. Write down all the answers. Shoot for 10 possible answers. Then test them. Try to disprove every one of them. 

When you find one (or two) that can't be disproved, you might be on to something. Test it again. 

If this sounds like trial and error, it is. The scientific process is trial and error. It starts with an observation and a question. The question produces answers. Most of the answers your brain serves up will be bad. You won't know they're bad until you test them. A lot of right answers sound wrong before they're tested. 

When someone tells you to find all the facts before stating a hypothesis, nod your head and ignore them. They're afraid of the answer. They like their treadmill. But you're free to find the answer that stands up to a test. That answer is pure gold, and it's hidden in a hypothesis. 

Safer Drinking? It's Here

Ever feel a just a little guilty about the drink with friends after work? That beer at the ball game? A glass of wine with dinner?


Do you pay attention to the studies saying moderate drinking is good for you? Or the ones that follow quickly saying drinking's bad for you? 

Do wish you could have a vodka and cranberry juice without guilt or worry?

Well, you can. A research company called Chigurupati Technologies has invented and patented a technology that reduces liver stress from alcohol by over 90 percent. That's better than some fast foods. The technology is called NTX and it's already available in a vodka brand. 

Not only does NTX reduce liver damage to near zero, it also protects against the damage alcohol does to your DNA. Not to mention increasing the liver's production of antioxidants. 

(Read more about NTX and Chigurupati Technologies here.)

But with all good news there must some bad news, right? 

Of course. The US government has put a gag order on Chigurupati Technologies. They're not allowed to tell consumers that vodka with NTX could save their lives. The rotten bureaucracy at the heart of this anti-consumer nonsense is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

There's an epic battle brewing right now in Washington over safer alcohol. And an organization called the Coalition for Safer Alcohol has asked me to help in its fight to defend the First Amendment for consumers. The Coalition for Safer Drinking believes it's a good thing that people can drink without getting sick. We're not advocating drinking for people who don't, and we implore people to drink responsibly. 

We believe that drinking responsibly includes choosing alcohol that does the least possible amount of body damage. We know that just 15 minutes after your first drink, your liver enzymes show signs of stress, you DNA processes go sideways, and oxidation of your cells increased. We also know, based on two human studies in India and the in the U.S., that alcohol produced with NTX reduces those bodily stresses to the point of insignificance. And we are flummoxed by the government's attempt to hide this lifesaving information from consumers. 

Check out the Coalition's website for more information. If you'd like updates from me, subscribe below. Otherwise, subscribe at the Coalition for Safer Drinking. It's up to you. 

4 Incredibly Simple Questions To Make Any Company Successful

Derek Sivers of CD Baby. And life. Here's my favorite story from Derek Sivers's brilliant tiny book Anything You Want. Sivers was in Las Vegas talking to his cab driver. The cabbie told Sivers he misses the mob. Sivers asked why:

“When the mafia ran this town, it was fun. There were only two numbers that mattered: how much was coming in, and how much was going out. As long as there was more in than out, everyone was happy. But then the whole town was bought up by these damn corporations full of MBA weasels micro-managing, trying to maximize the profit from every square foot of floor space. Now the place that used to put ketchup on my hotdog tells me it'll be an extra twenty-five cents for ketchup! It sucked all the fun out of this town! Yeah... I miss the mob.”

(Sure, we could bring up other issues with the mob, but let's just leave it as a metaphor and a lesson.)

I told this story a lot at CD Baby.

Sometimes MBA types would ask me, “What's your growth rate? What's your retained earnings rate as a percentage of gross? What are your projections?”

I'd just say, “I have no idea. I don't even know what some of that means. I started this as a hobby to help my friends, and that's the only reason it exists. There's money in the bank and I'm doing fine, so no worries.”

They'd tell me that if I analyzed the business better, I could maximize profitability. Then I'd tell them about the taxi driver in Vegas.

Never forget why you're really doing what you're doing.

Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn't that enough?

Sivers, Derek (2011-06-29). Anything You Want (pp. 28-29). AmazonEncore. Kindle Edition.

Four questions that define the only just reason for any business to exist. This should be a consultant's checklist:

  1. Are you helping people? If not, you should figure out a way to help or shut down the business. Companies that aren't helping are hurting, and that's evil.

  2. Are they happy? This goes beyond merely helping. Helping is the bare minimum. If they're not happy, you're doing it right.

  3. Are you happy? This might be the most important question of all. If making people happy by helping them doesn't delight you, find something that does.

  4. Are you profitable? Yes, you have a responsibility to make a profit, but only if you answered "yes" to the first three questions. If you're not helping, or if they're not happy, or if you're not happy, then you have no right making money doing what you're doing.

I read business journals and blogs every day that talk about companies squeezing another nickel out of unhappy customers they're killing before the CEO jumps off the roof of his 128-story tower.  What a waste of lives and money.

I know business schools don't teach helping, happy, happy, profit, but they should. And if they don't, why would anyone go?

Later, Sivers sums up the Tao of Business beautifully:

But even well-meaning companies accidentally get trapped in survival mode. A business is started to solve a problem. But if the problem was truly solved, that business would no longer be needed! So the business accidentally or unconsciously keeps the problem around so that they can keep solving it for a fee.

(I don't want to pick on anyone's favorite pharmaceutical company or online productivity subscription tools, so let's just say that any business that's in business to sell you a cure is motivated not to focus on prevention.)

It's kind of like the grand tales, in which the hero needs to be prepared to die to save the day. Your company should be willing to die for your customers.

That's the Tao of business: Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you'll do well.


Help people, make them happy, have fun, and make a profit. That's all it takes to run a successful business.

Why I Stopped Lying On My LinkedIn Profile **UPDATE**

Do you dread updating your resume? Does the thought of refreshing your LinkedIn profile make want to vomit? If you answered "yes," we have a lot in common.  My LinkedIn profile was duller than dirt. It read like everybody else's. A bunch of self-serving crap. Who needs that? I wouldn't hire the guy who wrote my LinkedIn profile. I wouldn't want to sit next to him on a long flight, either.

My old profile fit all the recommendations from professional LinkedIn profile advisers. What do they know?

My old profile was a lie. It wasn't me. I don't like typing lists of facts about myself, but my professional resume on LinkedIn was just that: a list of facts.

I'm a storyteller, not a list-maker. Actually, that's not completely true, either. I do make lists. I just don't try to persuade people with lists. I don't try to tell stories or convey facts with lists. I make lists for myself because James Altucher told me to.

While I hate writing my own brag sheet, I love writing stories. I like hearing stories, too. Stories draw people in. A list of facts just inspires people to find something wrong with one of them.

So yesterday, I decided to rewrite my LinkedIn profile as a story. Big risk, I know. Dangerous, yes. Only an idiot would take a huge chance like that with something as important as his LinkedIn profile.  "Are you crazy?"

My company will probably hate me for it, too, since clients look up everybody they work with. I don't care.

Pretending to be the kind of person who promotes himself with lists of achievements is a lie. And there's nothing worse than lying on LinkedIn.

So I stopped lying.

Go check out my LinkedIn profile and tell me what you think. And if you decide to go crazy and turn your profile into a story, please let me know. I'd like to read your story.

UPDATE  Two days after I rewrote my LinkedIn profile as a story, I found this post about . . . wait for it . . . why you should rewrite your resume as a story.  Can't make this stuff up.

Hooked Is The Best Book on Product Design You'll Read This Year

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming ProductsHooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The best business book I've read. And I've read a lot.

If you design products, software, apps, systems, programs, or companies, you have to read this book. Twice. And everyone you work with needs to read it, too.

I read about 15 to 20 books on business, persuasion, psychology, and product design every year. Sometimes more. And I read blogs on strategy, design, and influence every day of my life.

I also use what I learn in these books and blogs every day for a living. I am a persuasive design strategist.

I'm a sucker for books that validate my own favorite thinkers, and it didn't take long for Nir Eyal to stroll through my pantheon of persuasion artists.

He summarizes B.J. Fogg's Fogg Behavioral Model better than Fogg:

The Fogg Behavior Model is represented in a formula, B = MAT, which represents that a given behavior will occur when motivation, ability and a trigger are present at the same time and in sufficient degrees. [55] If any component of this formula is missing or inadequate, the user will not cross the “Action Line” and the behavior will not occur.

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 735-738). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

He credits Robert Cialdini, the godfather of persuasion:

A psychological phenomenon known as the escalation of commitment has been shown to make our brains do all sorts of funny things . The power of commitment makes some people play video games until they keel over and die.  It is used to influence people to give more to charity. It has even been used to coerce prisoners of war into switching allegiances.

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1516-1519). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

He helps you apply the "IKEA Effect," coined by Dan Ariely:

The results showed that those who made their own origami animals valued their creation five times higher than the second group’s valuation, and nearly as high as the expert-made origami values (figure 29). In other words, those who invested labor associated greater value with their paper creations simply because they had worked on them. Ariely calls this the “IKEA effect.”

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1531-1534). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

I've never read a book that covers all of these subjects so well. But that's not all. Nir Eyal's Hooked also give practical steps and tasks you can start using after the first chapter.

Here's an example:

Do This Now

Refer to the answers you came up with in the last “Do This Now” section to complete the following exercises:

- Review your flow. What “bit of work” are your users doing to increase their likelihood of returning?

- Brainstorm three ways to add small investments into your product to:

- Load the next trigger

- Store value as data, content, followers, reputation and skill

- Identify how long it takes for a “loaded trigger” to re-engage your user.

How can you reduce the delay to shorten cycle-time through the Hook?

Eyal, Nir (2013-12-26). Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Kindle Locations 1783-1789). Nir Eyal. Kindle Edition.

In other words, this book will make you more valuable to yourself, your family, your products, and your company the minute you pick it up.

But don't just pick it up; read it. Read all. Highlight and take notes. And put it into action.

Thank you, Nir Eyal. You've made the world a better place.

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