Scientists never really ‘know’ if something is true: they just have a body of evidence which supports a hypothesis, which has not yet been disproved. The onus does not lie on anyone else to prove an alternative: it’s open simply to disprove the currently accepted ‘truth’. In this sense, you could say that science is not about finding an answer: our accepted method of scientific enquiry is simply a glorious methodology for exploring the validity of our ideas. In a rather meaningful way, to propose a hypothesis which is disproved through experimentation is a valid use of our time. We may not find ‘truth’, but we certainly knock down a false contender.
I’m still considering how to build ‘experiments’ into the Storytelling Certification in a meaningful way: i want to create a space where people can use Unit 1 (theory and technique) to discover an area of enquiry, and formulate an idea, and then use Unit 2 (experiment and report), to test the idea, and learn from it.
Clearly an ‘experiment’, at least in the everyday Organisational context that non scientists work, alongside their day job, is going to have be both pragmatic, and lightweight. Whilst we may not be designing experiments that change the world, we can design experiments that hold true to the principles of scientific enquiry: we can be informed by current knowledge, we can propose an area of exploration, we can formulate a working hypothesis, and we can set out to try to disprove it. And we can learn, whether we do so or not.
Let’s take a really practical example, around Storytelling. We may formulate a working hypothesis, that ‘Short videos are the most effective way for a leader to get their message across’. Why would we formulate this view? Well, we may consider that ‘communication’ is important, and that there is a lot of discussion right now about ‘short’ being ‘good’ when it comes to videos. At an academic level, there is a lot of research that we could delve into here: work looking at modalities of storytelling, looking at attention tracking in video, even eye tracking to see where people look. There is work that looks at this against variables of age, of education, of context where you are viewing the video. But at a practical level, in your own leadership practice, this may be a valid topic to explore.
In that sense, the ‘experiment’ that you are running may look something like this: you formulate your hypothesis, and you create three stories. One short video, one long video, and one written article, then you ask three different groups of ten people to engage, ten people on each of the stories. At the end, ask them questions of comprehension, understanding, recall of key facts etc.
Alternatively, you could ask 30 people to engage with all three, and ask them about preferences, recall, opinion etc.
Neither ‘experiment’ is really valid in the sense of traditional scientific enquiry: we are testing multiple variables, our mechanism is pretty qualitative ‘which did you like’, although we could include hard recall too.
But in a practical and rather mundane sense, it’s extremely valid: we have actively considered some received wisdom, and tested it. We have engaged with a group of our peers, and considered how to tell effective stories. We may even have garnered some of their own interest, or kicked off some counter narratives. For some people, it may be the first time they have made and shared videos, or thought about how to tell a story in long and short form.
At a very pragmatic level, i intend to work with the first four cohorts, to find out exactly what type of experiments they shape, and run. And from that, i can see if we need more guidance, support, or even to change the structure and approach.