The other day I was watching a television series: Dr. House, M.D.
It is a series about a genius doctor who diagnoses patients with ‘interesting’ conditions. Other doctors may have failed to diagnose correctly, but most of the time, Dr. House finds the problem.
The series interests me very much. I think this is mainly because of the methodology woven into the storyline. Dr. House has a team of the best doctors which he uses for generating theories about the possible causes of the patients’ unknown illnesses.
Dr. House prefers not to talk to patients themselves (“everybody lies”) because that would cloud the facts. He comes across as unfriendly and I suspect a lot of viewers of the series will stop watching because of this.
However, there seems to be some method to this unfriendliness…
The method in House
When a new patient comes in, the team usually starts with a list of the known symptoms.
These constitute the facts. An explanation of what ills the patient will need to fit the facts.
Obviously there are some interesting side remarks to make about facts. Like: which are relevant?, which are true? How to get more? Are we missing something important? Etc.
Dr. House uses his team to come up with some wild theories that fit the known facts.
House will select one or more and propose an experiment (“treatment”). This treatment usually leads to new symptoms/facts.
With the new information, the team will meet again and repeat the process. Usually, towards the end of the episode, Dr. House will (brilliantly) come up with the correct theory.
In the end, this is a kind of differential diagnosis process.
The creative process
So, I guess, the main difference between the Dr.House process and the method I described earlier is that there is more than one theory.
Maybe we should call this a ‘creative process’: basically, you wildly think of a number of theories that may fit the facts. You can do this with a team if you like, hold a brainstorm session.
Each theory you come up with can then be discarded along the process for one theory.
Groupthink and revolution
The theories need to be different from each other. If they are too much alike, there is little point in having more theories.
One thing Dr. House does in the series is to create strive in the team. In doing so, he tries to get more competing people and hence theories.
The team-culture for generating theories needs to be anti-groupthink: creative and competitive.
When a group switches from one theory to another, you could call this a scientific revolution or paradigm shift (as proposed by Thomas Kuhn)