Por Mauro Rebelo

Pulse R&D

DALL·E 2023-01-16 15.32.05 - zoom in and out of a fractal blood vessels maze

DALL%C2%B7E 2023 01 16 15.33.33 zoom in and out of a fractal maze

We think of scientific research or product development as a straight line. Firstly, because our image of these projects is usually built on the product and it’s natural to look back and visualize only the straight line, ignoring all the other options that were tested and didn’t move forward. Secondly, nobody wants to imagine the real amount of work that will go into a development, so we dream of a perfect world in which all our hypotheses will be validated on the first try and we’ll have a linear development.

However, the R&D process is more like a labyrinth. Multiple paths can lead to the same solution, but multiple other paths lead nowhere. To make the decision more difficult, you may know where you are and where you want to go in this labyrinth, the question being which path is best, but often, legitimately, you may not know exactly where you stand in it.

In these labyrinths, you need two types of people. A sprinter, a researcher who goes ahead on the selected path, as fast as possible, to try to see what’s around the bend: an open avenue or a dead end? An open or closed door? And then a marathon runner, a researcher responsible for quality, who will walk the paths identified by the sprinter more slowly, carefully checking that the paths the team will take are safe, solid and consistent. If there’s a secret passage, a superpower, a trap door or a monster lurking.

Parenthesis: These are the “fast and dirty” and “slow and clean” approaches widely discussed in the scientific community. The “fast and dirty” strategy emphasizes speed and simplicity in the search for answers, while the “slow and clean” strategy focuses on precision and rigor. John Maynard Smith, who in 1992 introduced the notion of “quick and dirty research” to describe how scientists often use simplified methods to gain an initial understanding of a problem before delving deeper, and has been widely applied in research into systems biology and artificial intelligence. The “slow and clean” strategy, on the other hand, was popularized by physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, who argued that precision and rigor are crucial for the advancement of science in fields such as theoretical physics and computational chemistry. Close parentheses

In an unknown labyrinth, it’s unrealistic, and I would venture pointless, to try to plan the way to get to the end, and you need ‘fast and dirty’ to identify the next stage. But you won’t develop a product with just quick and dirty, because complex phenomena don’t have simple explanations. After reducing uncertainty in order to choose a path, that path must be pursued in a ‘slow and clean’ way.

I wonder if the sprint and the marathon, the ‘fast and dirty’ and the ‘slow and clean’ rather than competing strategies, aren’t two parts of the same process, a kind of ‘pulse’ of creation, with moments (and movements) of expansion (during the sprint) of hypotheses and contraction of uncertainties, about the best path to innovation.

The labyrinth also contracts and expands, and reminds me of the circulatory system, in which blood leaves an artery, bifurcates into arterioles, which become capillaries, which irrigate the tissues, is captured by venous capillaries, which become venules, which turn into a vein, which again bifurcates to allow the blood to be oxygenated in the bronchi of the lungs, before again concentrating in an artery, which again bifurcates, in a cycle of uncertainty reduction.

DALL%C2%B7E 2023 01 16 15.32.05 zoom in and out of a fractal blood vessels maze

During a research pulse, the project is ‘expanded’ and various possibilities are explored, and then ‘contracted’ when the impossibilities are eliminated.

If you have a sprinter and a marathon runner on your team, speed and quality will be guaranteed. Just make sure you don’t let your sales team make scientific decisions. Instead of ‘fast and clean’, you could end up with ‘sloppy’.