Illogical R&D

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Joined: 01/20/2010

Stop for a moment and think about the meaning of logic. Mary is logical. What does logic mean? Is it a way of thinking? Is it thinking divorced from the emotions? Is it a means of unambiguous communications between different cultures, people, and domains? The word itself comes from the Greek λογικός logikos, meaning speech or reason.

If P then P. Logical huh? If we can’t agree on this simple statement, then what are truth, comprehensibility and ratiocination?

There once was a man name of Gödel.

Whose work gave logicians a hurdle.

All talk’s incomplete.

It can never defeat.

The hooks on a pure maiden’s girdle.

WCRDAdmin (2010)

Problems with logic were formalized by mathematicians in the 1930’s, starting with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. Subsequent decades led to the demise of logic as an absolute criterion of truth in mathematics (see Körner). If “It’s raining”, then “It’s raining”. We all see shades of truth in this statement. We first have to define what is meant by “raining” to be able to reach general consensus on the statement. Once you step outside the mental realm of logic and apply it to the real world, to what logicians call ‘the accidental’, then the absoluteness of logic starts to unravel. We develop a set of rules, called postulates, and test our assertions against those rules. But the rules are always subject to change.

We’re trying to make a connection between our imaginations and Nature, which by-the-way operates quite independently of any of our hair-brained concepts, beliefs, theories and ‘logics.’ If we are successful in making the connection, then the imagination can more assuredly ‘run ahead’ of our understanding of Nature, so-to-speak, and open up new possibilities for our exploitation. The imagination guides us to new products, new frontiers, new self-understanding, etc. It contributes much to what we mean by being human.

If there is a disconnect between our imagination and Nature, then we must change the imagination. For example the Kochen-Specker Paradox simply means you cannot apply Euclidean geometry to describe the spin of elementary particles. In the spin of elementary particles, 2 + 4 is not equal to 4 + 2. This is not a big surprise to most mathematicians, most of whom have long abandoned any attempt at ‘the truth’ and instead look for ‘what works’. If you made it to Modern Abstract Algebra in undergrad then you’ll know there are many realms of math where the commutative property of addition no longer applies. What is the math or logic we can use to better describe the spin of particles? Our imagination (our logic) reshapes itself to account for this new reality, and once more we push ahead into new territory (e.g., very high capacity hard drives for our computers, which are based on particle spin theory).

Logic of the Blockbuster

If you’re shooting for the less ambitious but much more practical criterion of what works then you have to say works for what? In the case of World Class R&D, we seek blockbuster products which give blockbuster revenues. This, along with the other dimensions of a World Class R&D organization, is the touchstone for all the ‘logic’ of our community. With this criterion we are able to arrive quite unambiguously at ‘the truth’ of whether or not we’re successful. This is a truth filled with emotions, ambitions, backstabbing, petty jealousies and all the fun stuff of being human.

The pure logician, the one that tries to force-fit the real world into some preconceived notion of ‘logic’, is forever locked in a cycle of frustration and despair. They get mad at the world for not seeing the obvious. They fail to sense their own entrapment inside artificial generalizations. Consider the following generalization: “Institutions are the way they are because we continue to go down a path based on a mistake made long ago in history.” It’s easy to imagine how any hiccup in the workings of today’s institutions can be seen as confirmation of this generalization. Conversely, we can easily devise the opposite generalization to justify continuance of today’s institutions.

If we try to change today’s institutions following a path of pure logic we’ll get nowhere. Today’s logic arises out of the current institutions. This is why most industries in decline continue their decline until they’re obsolete. A failed industrial or science model only allows for a tweaking of the model, for example, restructurings, process improvements or Waiting-for-Godot technology fixes. The visionary changes the frame and allows new logic to arise. Think of all the new science that followed the acceptance of H. Pylori as a cause of stomach ulcers. In order to break free and change the world you must first break free from the accepted generalizations, relying instead on faith: or, at least go outside your home industries to gain new insights.

In World Class R&D, then, we define the effectiveness of all our activities in terms of how well they get us to blockbuster products. Our logic then becomes the logic of the blockbuster. In sync with the mathematicians we arrive at the criterion of truth known as Whatever Works aka Anything Goes+ (leveraging as well those rare serendipitous moments when Nature gets ahead of our imaginations). We don’t automatically abandon what worked in the past; but we are no more beholden to past practices than we are open to new ones. As the old adage goes, once we get the maiden to start talking, we’re sure to unhook that girdle.