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.

the nature of problem-solving

This weekend, I was doing something I don’t really like to do: home repair. My facility with tools is about a 4 out of 10. My knowledge of home repair is about a 2 out of 10. My interest in home repair is about a 3 out of 10. You get the idea. Luckily, my LIFELINE is a 10 out of 10!

When I realized I was trying to fit a 5/16 inch drill bit in a 1/4 inch electric drill . . . well, I had no idea where to go from there. The trusted lifeline — my brother (who is incredulous that anyone would pay $80/hour for the “simplest” of home repair tasks (which I have often done, with much gratitude to the service provider)) — came to the rescue. He told me that my 1/4 inch drill bit could, if carefully manipulated, create a hole large enough for a 5/16″ plastic anchor to be pushed into. It sounds so simple, but my knowledge and experience are so limited. Could I have come to that solution on my own? Maybe, in 3 years, if left to my own devices . . . there is much that is already known, however, and having someone who can share that knowledge is a God-send.

I was dealing with a known problem, and the circumstances and facts were not that unusual. While we can always learn from accumulated knowledge and should do so when there, unique circumstances, conditions, personalities, and lives present problems that are novel. Indeed, the “utopia” in which all foreseeable problems are solved and the solution recorded is a unreliable, undesirable (and frightening! . . . more in a future post), and unlikely, scenario. The need for ongoing problem-solving will be with us for eternity (I hope).

What is problem-solving, anyway? Problem-solving seems to fall into two major domains: 1) mathematics and 2) problem-solving where some difficulty or obstacle is encountered where one needs to overcome the obstacle to get from the current state to the desired state. Even though those types of problem-solving are often considered separate, there can often be overlap and knowledge gained from the mathematics discipline to other disciplines.

Consider George Polya’s classic book, How to Solve It. Polya was a teacher of mathematics and wrote How to Solve It to provide teachers a way of assisting their students in learning to solve problems, and students a direct means of discovering the same. It is considered “one of the most successful mathematics books ever written” (Forward by John H. Conway), but many readers through the past decade have found it “of help in attacking any problem that can be ‘reasoned’ out — from building a bridge to winning a game of anagrams.” (From reviews of the original edition.)

I will be bringing more of Polya’s wisdom to you in future posts, but today, I offer you a link to a summary of Polya’s “list,” by Richard Neufeld of California Polytechnic State University.

What do you think?

Books: Creating Time

Last Friday, I shared that I am reading Creating Time by Marney K. Makridakis. So, this week, I read the first three chapters.

This is a fun book with a good mix of fascinating facts and information (did you know that one second equals 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the undisturbed cesium atom?) and solid coaching on how to examine and change our relationship with time. In Chapter One, there are suggestions for time-keeping alternatives: instead of measuring 60 minutes, how about measuring how much joy you feel or how relaxed you feel? I have yet to complete my assignment from the first chapter, making a box decorated in a time motif that will hold my beliefs about time, but I am hoping to show it to you soon!

Chapter Two goes on to help the reader explore his or her relationship with time. I love this:

One of the most common desires is to have time that is “managed”: time that is efficient and productive. In addition to efficient time, we also need other types of time, including . . Dream time . . . Concentrated time . . . Self-care time . . Private time . . Planning/preparation time . . .

Ms. Makridakis explores how we would be if we didn’t worry about time (See “Exploring Your Time Anxiety”!) and how we can learn to trust and befriend time. She reintroduces us to the concept of divine timing and its gifts.

Chapter Three brought to my attention, once again, my serious lack of science education and knowledge, as it delves into some of the implications of Einstein’s theory of special relativity (did you know that Einstein had two theories of relativity, special and general??). However, Ms. Makridakis is most kind, explaining time and relativity gently and practically. She shows us “how easily our perception of time is altered, simply by the location of the mind’s focus” and introduces her “Theory of Wellativity.”

Ms. Makridakis’ wonderful Theory of Wellativity is a practical approach to consciously controlling time by adjusting inner relativity. Her specific formula looks like this:


which means Fulfillment = Time + Imagination(squared)

What I love about this book is that it is creative and imaginative and substantive. Every page I turn has real prompts for changing my relationship with time. While the material is a pleasure to read, it can benefit from deeper engagement. This weekend I intend to circle back through the first three chapters, rereading each and completing the art assignments to fully engage in the material. I’ll keep you posted!

Books: Creating Time


Yesterday, I started reading Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life by Marney K. Makridakis. This book explores the concept of time and how to increase our perception of time through creativity. As someone who feels chronically short of the precious commodity, I look forward to finding new ways of perceiving time. Join me in reading this book and share your comments this week, or at the least, check in next Friday, where I will share nuggets of wisdom from Ms. Makridakis.