Richard Feynman

Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt

What Richard Feynman’s unsourced idea reveals about how scientists and entrepreneurs collaborate

I learned a powerful lesson about building science-driven companies whilst leading a session at the CSIRO’s ON Accelerator Program in 2015. It was a good vintage that year, including remarkable companies such as Emesent, RapidAIM and Future Feed as early ideas. On this day, we were talking about pitching and I wanted to show an example of a pitch that created momentum from people that can support the company as advocates, customers and partners.

I showed them Elon Musk launching the Tesla Powerwall. I love this talk because it has an ambition that gets people excited. It makes me want to participate in what Tesla is trying to build.

He begins, “What I am going to talk about tonight is a fundamental change about how the world works — how energy is delivered across the Earth.”

It turns out I had lost the room already when he said this.

We watched and listened together. When concluded, I looked at the teams expecting to see a crowd of 50 faces feeling the same excitement that I was.

But no.

Stone cold silence. Some horror in fact.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, he’s not telling the truth. There’s no way he’s going to pull that off.”

And that was the moment when I realised I was coming at this clumsily with an attitude that was against everything the 50 scientists were trained to believe.

This brings us back to Richard Feynman who said. “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of fact.”

Great entrepreneurs have an “unreasonable belief” in the possibility of something existing that does not exist today. Often, it is something hard that the world will resist. Without ‘faith’ a company cannot come to life.

A great pitch shares that faith in a way that others ‘believe’. It is hard to build momentum if others can’t see where the path might lead. The Powerwall keynote does this well.

Science requires proof and scientists are trained to share ideas only when they are proven. When they are factual. Their peers will start from a position of non-belief and then interrogate the evidence.

Like most things in life, the answer is to orientate around BOTH faith and fact.

Here’s the change we want to make.

Here’s what we know so far. And here’s what we intend to prove next.

Elon Musk recently appeared and reflected back on the journey so far at Tesla. The question he holds himself against is: Did we accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy? This is the faith.

There is no Tesla without faith and fact.



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Phil Morle

Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.