Seeking intuition and creativity

Check out Alden N. Hyashi’s review of the recently published Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics (Harvard Business School Publishing) written by Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim.  (“Thriving in a Big Data World” in the Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review).  The book is written for executives who need to understand big data and its associated science and work with quantitative analysts (“the quants”) who do the actual analytical work.  Hyashi describes the book as providing a three-step framework for how to think like a “quant”:  framing the problem, solving the problem, and communicating and acting on the results.

keeping up with the quants

 

We’ve posted generally about reframing a question, such as here and here.  Davenport and Kim make the point that articulating the right question is critical to finding the data that will solve your problem, and that this takes creativity.  Or, as Hyashi so eloquently states, “An important point made in Keeping Up with the Quants is that this new era of computational prowess does not obviate the need for intuition and creativity, and that is especially true in the important first step of framing a problem.” 

Data scientists might be a helpful new variety of scientist in our world, but people who know how to ask the right questions to solve a problem are as golden as they have been since the beginning of time.

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John and Doug, Gen Xers

Time on Gen X reconsidered

Yesterday, I came across a delightful blog written by a self-described “Gen Xer.”  John draws pictures and takes photographs of Doug (a truly creative monkey!), and together they explore work in the new world.  I found John’s writing thoughtful and warm and funny.  He has clearly thought a great deal about how to spend his life meaningfully, and he generously shares this journey through a series of posts called Find Your Path In Life Series and guides his readers through taking that same journey.  It IS a feel-good journey, but it’s more than that; John doesn’t dismiss the real obstacles and difficulties in balancing the need for security and safety with the need for meaning.  What he does do is to show that asking the right questions and engaging in creative problem-solving can move one forward.  His sense of optimism and spirit would be a great guide for anyone wanting to ask the questions that will move you.  Feeling restless in your work?  Feeling completely dissatisfied?  I invite you to try out a few of John and Doug’s exercises in the series.

Doug Does Life comes after a conversation I had recently with other baby boomers about the sense of “entitlement” post-baby boomers seem to exhibit in today’s workplace.  My friends included their own, hard-working children in the group.  But we all know the game has changed.  Post baby-boomers (Generations X and Y (also known as Millenials)) are living the writing on the wall, even as their parents encourage dedication to hard work as the most viable and probable path to success.  Gen Xers and Millenials can see for themselves that the late baby-boomers are having to continue that singular path of working ruggedly hard into their seventh and eighth decades, and they are rightfully asking why.  The payoff isn’t waiting at the end for most of us.  Seeking meaningful work, expecting basic health care benefits and a livable wage, and not promising the bulk of one’s hours of the day in exchange is asking for payment now, knowing that tomorrow’s payday will likely not come, no matter what has been promised.  It’s not a matter of entitlement or who worked, or is working, harder.  It’s a matter of recognizing the way things are and demanding respect in our economy.  We all value meaning and leisure and joy; the “youngsters” know to ask for it now, at the same time they are working hard and working well.  They are creating the opportunities, too.  While we baby-boomers are still trying to make the transition, let’s watch and take notes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

it’s too big

You are an active participant in your own life. You work hard, pay attention, and contribute to reaching and exceeding goals. You improve your skills, build your character, and try to understand issues from many sides. You are patient. You don’t whine. You get help. You talk it out with friends and speak to the experts. You try so hard, and maybe even make some progress.

But the problem persists. It doesn’t go away, even with you trying to chip away at it every day. It happens to all of us: the problem is simply bigger and more complex than we are. And sometimes we just can’t solve it. We can’t beat it. It gets us.

As a citizen of the United States, a country built on the principles and culture of self-reliance and going it alone, living in what’s frequently touted as the greatest country in the world, filled with opportunity for all, we are told, there can be a marked tendency to believe that success is available just around the corner if we’re doing all the right things. The truth is, sometimes it just isn’t. And our problem does not have to do with how hard we are working, our positive outlook, or how much we want it. The problem is simply too big for us. We don’t have control.

Yesterday, my email from Daily Worth arrived in my mailbox with Caitlin Kelly’s introduction to Pound Foolish: Exploring the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry by Forbes columnist Helaine Olen. The nature of Ms. Olen’s work resonated with me, as I’ve spent hours with a friend listening to her excellent and dogged research of how the economic disasters of the past several years have impacted the lives of humans, often with tsunami-like force and resulting devastation. Some of us are managing, and some of us are devastated, and much of it has to do with uncontrollable, destroying force that indiscriminately chooses its victims. Terminal illness. Financial bankruptcy. A failing marriage. Sometimes we can’t stop it, we can’t solve it.

Olen’s work reminds us that no matter how many gurus tell us they have the answer if you only do this or this or this, the problem, the circumstances, the solution may not be in our control. Self-help experts abound; indeed, we are exploring professional and personal growth here.

Keep perspective, my friends. Broaden and keep perspective.