Por Mauro Rebelo

Managing uncertainty in innovative projects

DALL·E 2023-01-14 08.43.56 - managing uncertainty in innovative projects

In innovative and highly complex projects, there is no recipe for execution. There is no planning rule that can reduce the uncertainty associated with events that can only be clarified empirically by testing.

In these projects, rather than building the airplane on the fly, we’re trying to discover, on the fly, what it is that’s flying. The way to do this is by establishing visions of our product that are like hypotheses to be tested. With execution, even if we make mistakes and pivot, if we learn something and can update our vision of the product with less uncertainty, then we move forward. Our execution resembles a Bayes theorem: the result of each sprint is information that corrects our a priori hypothesis and generates a new a posteriori hypothesis of the sprint.

Admitting uncertainty, perhaps counter-intuitively, builds trust because it demonstrates integrity. Our job is not to take a rough gem and polish it. It’s more about building and rebuilding. In this respect, the work of a scientist is similar to that of a writer. As the great Roman orator Horace Flacco used to say:

Every writer should work 10 hours a day: 2 hours writing and 8 hours rewriting.

And the Israeli writer Amoz Oz:

Like the sculptor who breaks the stone to find the sculpture, the writer erases more than he writes

So a big part of our job as scientists is to analyze and re-analyze and critically evaluate, time after time, whether the data isn’t offering a better alternative explanation and whether our view of the product should be updated again.

Reconstruction can seem like a waste, because we’re throwing away a vision of the product tied to premises that weren’t true. Sometimes throwing away the results of experiments and months of work. But it’s not a waste when reworking teaches us new things and reduces uncertainty. As with other startups, our tolerance for waste is very, very low.

Reconstruction then requires the wisdom to recognize the learning opportunity and courage, because only with courage can we free ourselves from the fear of making a mistake in this decision.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” (Nelson Mandela)

Reconstruction also requires a strong commitment to science and great respect for the client’s money, which is ultimately Brazilian society’s money.

That’s why, at Bio Bureau, we spend one day creating our vision of the product and all the others trying to deconstruct, disprove and destroy that vision, until the conclusion that emerges is scientifically and commercially sound. That’s how we do biotechnology for business.”