Jan 18, 2022
Software Development According to Dr. Richard Feynman
One of our greatest challenges in software development is encouraging an organization, from the CEO to the customer, to tolerate experimentation. We have a pathological fear of failure, significantly when that failure could potentially impact our product, our investors, and, ultimately, our business. This is not good development. Or at least it shouldn’t be. However, explaining this to someone who is apathetic at least or has forgotten their way entirely can be exhausting to say the least. So I propose we return to everything we learned in middle school. Yes, the scientific method.
To take a guess, then test it. If you get lucky, fail over and over. Iterate toward something that “might work” before we put it into action. Then watch your baby fail in the wild and figure out how to improve it. Scramble, fix, test, release.
Rinse and repeat.
This is the fun stuff, folks. This is what it means to build new products at its fundamental level. To ITERATE without fear.
Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning Physicist, produced a series of lectures, essays, and books regarding everything from the building blocks of the universe to sociology. In the video below from a lecture he gave in 1964, he discusses how the consequences of a guess are computed using the scientific method.
Now I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s the truth. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply, and then we compare the computation results to nature, or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.
If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is; it doesn’t matter how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is … If it disagrees with the experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.
You don’t need fancy processes or tools to build a startup product - you must be fearless and willing to fail despite the occasional terror. But it is worth it, and makes it more fun.