The Shotgun Principle: Development at it's Best

Posted on

While listening to NPR this morning, I was thinking of the basic principle of development.  Whether it's new technologies, new processes, or new products, it all seems to be developed through the same principle:  The shotgun effect.  What is the shotgun effect?  Well, let's say you go hunting for water fowl (duck or goose), and want to be sure you get one.  Say you and your buddy each take a gun, you have a rifle, your buddy has a shotgun.  You split up and start shooting.  Who gets more fowl?  The shotgun.  Why?  Because the shotgun, instead of firing one projectile in a (relatively) straight line, fires a collection of projectiles (shot) in a close group.  As such, it increases the likelihood a hit will come from a shot.  So what does this have to do with development?  Let's say your company is new to the market.  You have one killer product that is great, and you pour all your investment into this one project.  Then the Economy changes, and your product is no longer a necessary product.  Your company will most likely fail, and the product will go the way of the Turnip-flavored ice cream.  But let's say your company has that one killer product, but your development team has a number of other ideas to which they would like to devote time.  You give in, allowing your development team to have a small portion of their time to work on their own projects (sound familiar, like Google?).  Because they are developing on Company time their projects provide value to the company depending on whether or not it pans out.  Now the economy changes again, and your killer product is no longer relevant, and as such goes the way of the beet-flavored popcicle.  All of a sudden you have a collection of products that you can fall back on, because you allowed your development team freedom to work on their own ideas and projects.  Given now the full investment capital from your company, one or several of these little projects become all killer products.  This same principle is followed by Biology.  Genes have set codes that allow some variation without significant changes.  Yet they also mutate while being copied, and eventually significant variations start to show.  As one set of codes become too limiting in a given environment, another set may thrive, and those genes become dominant.  Whether you believe in Evolution or not, this concept of adaptation and genetic variation has been proven, within species.  Genetic codes follow the shotgun effect in their development, and only those viable characteristics that are the result dictate which codes work.  So why was I thinking about this?  Because Energy policy and the Economy has been very prevalent in the political spectrum for this shining moment (who knows how the political landscape will change in a few weeks).  We can either put all our eggs in one basket, or allow the shotgun effect to work and invest in all technologies out there that can grow our energy production.  Only those that are the most viable in the given environment will succeed, while others may be waiting in the wings should the environment change.  Perhaps it's my bias showing through, but I see this happening again in Air travel.  Soon airlines will realize that airships will become less expensive to maintain for passengers than current airplanes, though it will take longer for someone to travel from one place to another.  It will probably start in the small communities that are currently losing airlines because of the low rate of return.  But soon I do see it becoming a more common method of travel and shipping.  After all, it's just one more bit of shot from the gun.