Back in August, I did a short video about the scientific method, outlining it’s basic steps of observation and measurement, questioning, developing a hypothesis, testing, and analyzing the results. Today I want to run through a brief history of this kind of thinking.
The scientific method is given credit for accelerating the industrial revolution of the 18th century, but that’s not where it begins.
There’s a document called the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which is a medical text from Egypt dating back to 1600 BCE. I think it’s safe to say that we as humans have had this capability to think like this since we became humans. Just imagine what kind of thinking was required to build pyramids with limited tooling, not just in ancient Egypt, but in ancient civilizations around the world.
The scientific method requires an ordered way of thinking that aims to strip emotional noise and bias out of the analysis we do on any phenomenon. It turns out that this is the hard part.
But let me fast forward a few thousand years. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, also outlines a scientific method and gives us the theory of empiricism. Empirical evidence is that which is directly observed and measured. Aristotle also taught us inductive and deductive reasoning, which essentially requires us to question even that which is directly observed in order to make sense of what we see.
So observation and thinking really go hand in hand. These days we see a lot of shocking videos and our emotional responses are predictable as we jump to conclusions based on the very limited evidence provided by most of these videos. Because we aren’t to see and describe ALL the circumstances surrounding what we are seeing on the video, we aren’t able to properly decide what happened, so we fill in the gaps with whatever our emotional and experiential triggers give us.
The 1600’s gave us Francis Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, all of whom devised ways of thinking, measuring, and reasoning through the problems they were interested in and took us in a different direction, away from inductive and deductive reasoning and into quantitative analysis and experimentation. These guys brought mathematics to the game.
In the lean world, we tend to begin our historical analysis with Walter Shewhart, who, in 1939, published “Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control” and introduced the Shewhart Cycle which he listed as “Specification – Production – Inspection.”
W. Edwards Deming, a disciple of Shewhart’s (and editor of Shewhart’s book) evolved the Shewhart Cycle into a 4-step cycle he labeled “Design – Produce – Sell (Get to market) – Redesign through Market Research” while working in Japan in 1950.
The Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers called this the “Deming Wheel” and deployed it to companies throughout Japan after relabeling the steps “Plan – Do – Check – Act” in what Deming later called “the corruption.”
We’ll pick it up from here as we move forward.
Have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.