What can science bring business?

Although I normally think and write about what the commercial business (aka the real) world can bring to astronomy management, I thought I would take a new look at the subject and consider what science can bring the (real) world of business management. Are there aspects of  science and astronomy  that can be applied to the business world?  In short,  yes.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the Vietnamese company, Viettel. Viettel is one of the fastest growing telecommunications companies in the world and I was very impressed with their leadership and their company’s vision and culture.  The company has 8 very visible values that seem to directly reflect the marriage of the scientific approach within the commercial world framework.  The translations I found differ, but their 8 basic values can be summarized as:

  1. The data decide the right answer.
  2. Learn through success and failure.
  3. Change is the norm; adapt quickly.
  4. Innovation is life.
  5. Think about the system, not just the parts.
  6. Combine the East and the West – look at things from different perspectives.
  7. Exploit the military tradition and manner: discipline, unity, perseverance, decisiveness, thoroughness.
  8. Viettel is a family.

I really can’t think of a better way to put it. These principles capture the data-based, experimental, innovation driven approach from science with a systems engineering, multiple-perspective, disciplined outlook in an organization that treats its employees as family. That sounds a lot like the marriage of science and business, fairly consistent with my own management and leadership goals as mentioned in a previous post.  Some benefits of the scientific approach, which Viettel seems to understand, include the objective competing of different ideas and different solutions in order to find the best solution.  The search for the truth is more important than any one person being right.  In working together to explore multiple ways of solving a problem, we create alignment in purpose and a focus on providing the best results for the organization.  We do not make decisions based on opinions, but on facts and data.

Viettel also acknowledges that learning comes from failures as well as successes.  Combined with their focus on objective data, I imagine they explore why their successes worked as well as why their failures failed, and learn from each.  My personality type, I’ve read, typically views failures as incomplete successes. That characterization may have been meant a bit facetiously, but the Viettel principles show the value of such a world view.  If we use the data at hand, make an objective decision that ultimately proves wrong, we have learned something valuable – perhaps as valuable or more than we would have learned had we got it right instead. We try, we fail, we learn, we improve, we move on.  (The downside to that approach of course arises if you fail to learn from the failure, and simply reclassify it as a success. That is not what I am advocating.)

I think this ties into a concept I have been hearing more and more about lately of radical transparency, but more on that in a future post.

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