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Experimenting in the Unknown: Lessons from The Manhattan Project

Abstract : Experimentation is paramount to innovation. In fact, innovation scholars and practitioners have espoused Thomke's (2003) book titled Experimentation matters: Unlocking the potential of new technologies for innovation. Unfortunately, companies still experience considerable technical and managerial difficulties with organizing experiments under high uncertainty. This study confronts Thomke's experimentation principles with a high uncertainty context by examining experiments conducted by The Manhattan Project from 1943–1945, the initiative that created the first implosion‐type fission bomb. Findings suggest that lack of theoretical knowledge, a crisis of scientific instruments, and absence of pre‐established organizations were critical to such highly uncertain experimentation. We conclude with a discussion of the boundary conditions of Thomke's experimentation principles. Finally, we propose five principles for facilitating the management of experimentation in the unknown.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 10:46:31 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, March 11, 2021 - 3:19:13 AM

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Thomas Gillier, Sylvain Lenfle. Experimenting in the Unknown: Lessons from The Manhattan Project. European Management Review, Wiley, 2019, 16 (2), pp.449-469. ⟨10.1111/emre.12187⟩. ⟨hal-03163267⟩



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