OPINION31 August 2023

Rory Sutherland: Looking for luck

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The Impact columnist argues that before we leap to narrow logic, we should spend some time looking for a lucky insight.

Train running in Battersea

One of the distinctions I am most eager to make in my writings is that between bottom-up lateral discoveries and top-down, intentional, linear innovation. It seems to me that – in science as much as in business – the first has ultimately created more value than the second. Strange, then, that all institutions are very well designed to pursue the latter, but hopelessly ill-equipped to exploit or fund the former.

Here’s Andre Geim, the co-discoverer of graphene, on his approach to science:

“I jump from one research subject to another every few years. I do not want to study the same stuff ‘from cradle to coffin’, as some academics do. To be able to do this, we often carry out what I call ‘hit-and-run experiments’. Some crazy ideas that should never work and, of course, they don’t in most cases. However, sometimes we find a pearl. This research style may sound appealing, but it is very hard psychologically, mentally, physically, and in ...