Preface: Why think scientifically about the management of teams and organisations?

Preface: Why think scientifically about the management of teams and organisations?

The WAKER Path

Once upon a time, in Greco-Latin culture, scientists were also philosophers, or vice versa. This conjunction of Science and Humanities, with the exception of medieval obscurantism, remained practically until the Renaissance. The knowledge was integrated. It was from the Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the transition from the recovery of knowledge to invention occurs, when the scientific disciplines begin to diverge. The birth of Modern Science implies the beginning of the segregation of the areas of knowledge and the specialisation of scientists. The advance in the depth is at the cost of the loss of breadth of perspective and integration. Nowadays we talk about formal, natural, human sciences, etc. The contemporary scientist is a professional specialist. Under these circumstances, the permeation of innovations and discoveries from one field to another becomes more costly, even more from the so-called Sciences to the Humanities. Lateral thinking, cross-fertilisation of disciplines and the integration of knowledge areas are currently competitive advantages to be valued among the new professionals of the 21st century.

In this context, Science and Business could apparently seem two worlds facing each other and difficult to reconcile. The disruptive innovation and creativity pursued by the former are contrasted with the pursuit of operational excellence and return on investment of the latter. At the risk of oversimplification, we can say that on the one hand Science challenges the status quo to replace it, assumes the risk and handles change well. In the other, the Company tries to grow and defend its current business that is its own and knows it, is cautious with risk and averse to change. However, such incompatibility is far from reality and involves an unconscious bias. On the contrary, the combination of both realities and visions in the same endeavour is highly efficient due to their complementarity and synergy.

Why think scientifically about the management of organisations and companies? 


Companies, organisations and individuals are subject to laws, rules and regulations that we (ideally) impose by consensus as “social rules of the game”. However, as living beings that we are, we cannot escape the laws that govern Nature and, therefore, human organisations are also subject to them: “natural rules of the game”. Science tries to decipher these laws that allow us to understand the world around us and ourselves (“We are nothing more than Physics and Chemistry”, Severo Ochoa), hence it also provides explanations and answers to the behaviour of human organisations. whatever nature they are. Unlike social rules, natural rules are unbreakable, immutable, and universal (which does not mean that scientific knowledge is). We cannot fight them, so it is better to know them and grasp them, so that we can be aligned to our advantage. The intent of this blog is to bring up basic scientific knowledge and thinking to apply to the management of people and processes in organisations. In this regard, a first reflection. In nature all phenomena are subject to the principles of Thermodynamics, which we can summarise in the aphorism “energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only transforms; but also, inevitably, it wears out. Thus, nothing will happen to a system if there is no excess of free energy in it to be able to dissipate, in addition to what the transformation may require in itself. That extra energy is the engine of change. There is no perpetual motion machine and any transformation implies an increase in overall disorder (if something is ordered it is because something is disordered even more). To promote sustainable change in companies, organisations and individuals, it would be better for us not to forget such simple and natural principles.


We are immersed in a world of deep, frequent and accelerated changes. Living in change is not an option, it is inherent to us. The environment is evanescent, complex and confusing. The future, more unpredictable than ever. Individuals and organisations have to face this scenario in an efficient way in order to emerge strengthened or at least unscathed, for which it is useful to have available tools and develop psychological and practical skills. In this regard, the nature and structure of scientific thinking make it extremely appropriate for the management of the current conjuncture. Change, innovation, uncertainty, risk, rigor, rationality, objectivity, integration, flexibility, fluidity, adaptability, agility, scepticism, continuous growth and criticism are inherent to scientific mindset and methods. The scientific mind is not dogmatic and pursues critical and unbiased exploration of new knowledge. The scientist is accustomed to handling uncertainty, to the relativity and transience of truths, to resolving ambiguity by posing and subsequent approval or disapproval of hypotheses, to trial and error trials, to conclusions and informed decision-making supported in data, facts and prior knowledge, to the critical scrutiny of the propositions.

However, the scientific method has penetrated very slowly in fields such as politics, business or marketing, possibly due to our natural tendency to use instinct (“the intelligence of the unconscious”) when approaching the understanding and management of human behaviour. It is easier to go directly from an apparently certain conjecture to action than to stop to generate a theory, an idea or a hypothesis to validate later experimentally. But in science we know that the most plausible explanations can turn out to be wrong. It is not about reaching paralysis through analysis and you have to understand that there is always an “opportunity cost”. Instinct and reasoning are two complementary and valuable forms of intelligence. Therefore, when you do not have the time or the resources to trial the different alternatives and choose the best one, you will have to risk more and make the decision in the smartest way possible. But even in these circumstances the scientific method instructs us in risk management and advises us not to draw excessive conclusions beyond the limits set for the results of a partially controlled experiment. Uncertainty is our only certainty, so there is nothing wrong by keeping a pinch of scepticism and doubt. 

Scientific Method: The WAKER Path

The Scientific Method can be structured in the following sequential steps: The WAKER Path (NB: along the blog articles we propose to follow this same structure during the analysis and development of the topics):

1. Watch:

Gathering facts and data that allow describing the situation, the problem, the environment. It is about “setting the scene”. The result is a descriptive report on the state of affairs. 

2. Ask:

Identification and enunciation of the goal to be achieved, the problem to be solved, the question to ask, the improvement to be implemented, the opportunity to achieve, the dream to come true. It should also serve as inspiration, motivation, the individual and collective “ikigai” (the purpose and why of the effort) that brings us together, aligns and energises us during the effort. Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers” (Robert Half); “There are is no right answer to the wrong question” (Úrsula Le Guin). The result is setting the ultimate goal or challenge to be achieved, stating the question to be answered.

3. Know:

Compilation, study and understanding of existing scientific and technological knowledge regarding the issue at hand and that is relevant in achieving the set goal. Reflection and creative design on how to use it in the pursuit of the defined achievement. The result is an action plan to (dis)prove a hypothesis, to test an idea, to implement a solution, to develop a product.

4. Experiment:

Execution of the action plan, understood as a trial, an experiment, a game, an entertainment. A kind of getting on stage, performing the play and checking if the final achievement is really fit por purpose. It is the “solution” mode itself. The result is a product, a learning, an improvement, additional information, a deliverable.

5. Review:

Verification of the final objective achieved against the planned action plan. Constructive criticism of the global process (After Action Review): what went well, what could have been done better, what we are going to do next. There is no failure, but learning. There is always a reason to celebrate. Success does not lead to complacency. The result is the celebration of the work done and a decision about the way forward: an iteration, a new objective to set, an improvement to be made.