Experimenting in the unknown : lessons from the Manhattan project

Experimentation is of paramount importance in innovation. On this topic, the seminal book of Prof. Thomke entitled “experimentation matters” has received a warm welcome from innovation scholars and practitioners. Unfortunately, the companies still have major difficulties to organize experimentations in situation of high uncertainty. This research aims at verifying the validity of Thomke’s principles in such situation. For doing this, this research studies the exemplary experimentations carried out by the Manhattan Project to create the first implosion type fission bomb. Our findings show that the Thomke’s organizational principles by are ill adapted to manage experiment in the unknown. In particular, the lack of theoretical knowledge, the crisisof the scientific instruments and the absence of pre-established organizations are critical aspects. Finally, research avenues for experimenting in the unknown are formulated.