Etymology: German heuristisch, from New Latin heuristicus, from Greek heuriskein to discover; akin to Old Irish fo-fúair he found
Definition: involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods; also : of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance.
This is a word we should see in use more. It's an accurate reflection and invocation of what we need to see more of today, not just in our companies but in the world in general. We need to do more trial-and-error experiments as we try to figure out the right social ingenuity -- whether it be new business models or social ventures -- for the future. We need to develop a broader learn-by-doing ethos instead of the paralytic "have to have all the answers first to plan and then execute model." Nature doesn't work this way. And nature has always experimented, tried alternative approaches and options, so why wouldn't this work in any complex adaptive environment? We clearly live in one of these at present.
The heuristic approach is also essential for many effective strategy and innovation processes, processes, processes which are starting to become more mainstream in the business world (if they weren't already practiced without this kind of codification or framing.) For instance, I recently started using the "discovery-based" planning (see below image I created) or "assumption-based" planning concepts in my practice. This kind of approach is much more effective for strategy formulation under highly uncertain situations. Clayton Christensen, one of the most cited business thinkers around, mentions these in his recent book, The Innovator's Solution. Henry Mintzberg, in "The Death of Strategic Planning" called this the difference between "emergent" and "deliberate" strategies. Most companies get into trouble when they cling to the deliberate one far too long instead of shifting gears to where the market is really heading.
And another dimension of this applies to general life: Hermina Ibarra, from INSEAD, wrote a great article called "How to Stay Stuck in the Wrong Career" which applies this same argument to professional development and planning. Click here for the PDF. Must read for the many who are currently stuck with what they want to do with their life!
All of this seems like common sense to me. This seems a much better approach than the old plan-and-then-execute paradigm, which assumes you have more control over things than you really do. Or means that you are ignoring key uncertainties. But as straightforward as it may seem to me, and many of us, this linear mentality, strengthened by many economic (industrial, factory-forward) and cultural (Western idea of progress; Judeo-Christian cradle-to-grave) assumptions.Posted by nicole at August 3, 2004 01:59 PM