Props to Mr. Descartes

As I delve into the suggested reading for Top Gun, I’ve been surprised by some striking similarities with my medical training. In particular, it appears that the venerable scientific method has at long last found its way into the realm of entrepreneurship. Building on the work of ancient Greek scientists ranging from Thales and Aristotle down to the great Arab scholar Alhazen, the modern scientific method was crystallized in Rene Descartes’Discourse on Method.

This process of forming hypotheses based on observation and conjecture and then testing the validity of those educated guesses through experimentation and data collection is well known among scientists and non-scientists alike.  The iterative twist of repeating experiments based on new data creates the ubiquitous feedback loop seen across numerous fields.

Now thanks to thought leaders like Steve Blank, Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) and Alexander Osterwalder (Business Model Generation), those same scientific principles are being applied to startup entrepreneurship.  Instead of scientists “interrogating” the nature of the physical world, entrepreneurs are interrogating the nature of potential markets for their products. This approach encourages entrepreneurs to test the validity of their business models through a small scale, iterative process before taking on the significant financial risks inherent in launching a new product.

This makes sense given my training as a biology major, podiatrist and inventor.  As has been pointed out by our Top Gun mentors, many of us intent upon changing the world come from a technical background.   I believe these same scientific skills can be leveraged to our advantage in this new approach to the startup.  Experimental design, data collection and the feedback loop are already a familiar part of the mental landscape for many of us.  It’s reassuring to be able to put these concepts to use in our business ventures as well.

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About Todd O’Brien

Dr. O’Brien graduated from Bates College with a BS in biology in 1986. He then attended the Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine and graduated summa cum laude with a DPM degree in 1990. After completing a podiatric surgical residency at VAMC Palo Alto and Stanford, Dr. O’Brien was employed at Sgarlato Labs, a biomedical start-up then based in San Jose, CA. He served in a variety roles there including product developer, project manager, technical writer and sales presenter. After three years at Sgarlato Labs, he returned to the full-time practice of podiatry until founding O’Brien Medical, LLC in 1999. He has since divided his time between running a podiatry practice and developing medical products. He has successfully licensed six surgical products and holds four issued patents. Writing credits include several articles in peer-reviewed medical journals, a chapter in a surgical text and a book on entrepreneurship for inventors. He is a past-president of the medical staff at Penobscot Valley Hospital as well as the Maine Podiatric Medical Association. He is a graduate of the 2012 class of the Top Gun entrepreneurship acceleration program administered by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.