The Wall Street Journal, calculus, and your ticket to the party

201603-pexels-calculator-scientificLast week, The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Calculus Is So Last Century”. The main idea? Industry today is focused on big data. And big data analysis leans more heavily on probably and statistics than calculus.

Here’s one quote from the article:

Accompanying the proliferation of new data is noise, and a major job for data analysts and scientists is to tease out true signal from coincidence and noise.

Ding ding ding! That’s it. That’s the basic argument that underlies a lot of the challenges you see in business today.

It’s easy to sift through evidence and cherry pick the results that support your prevailing theory of…anything. It’s much, much harder to rigorously suppress the noise and dance with the resulting uncertainty.

You hear a lot about how much more complex the world is today. We have more people, running larger businesses, making more sophisticated scientific advances. We have more connections between business, government, and academia today than we’ve ever had before.

Individually, we have access to tons more data. We have smartphones in our pockets or purses, that connect us to more information than we can consume in Earth’s lifetime.

I get it. I’m sympathetic to that argument. I think everyone is. But it gets boring, in a hurry. Who cares about all the complexity? What does it matter, if there’s nothing we can do about it?

The Wall Street Journal article addresses one small aspect of this challenge. There is something we can do about it. We can rely on algorithmic tools to help us sort signal from noise. And those tools are more likely to be found in the worlds of statistics and linear algebra than they are in calculus. Great.

On a larger level, this issue is why it’s so important for technically-minded folks to take commanding roles in business. Whether you have a STEM background or not, if you know your way around numbers and data, you need to be part of the conversation. Every conversation.

What’s your ticket for joining the party? Business acumen. Know how your business makes money. Know what obligations it has to customers, suppliers, partners, government, the community. Know what factors drive management-level decisions.

You have a great background. You know the vocabulary, and have the wherewithal, to continue your technical development. Pay attention to your business and commercial development as well. The world is heading to a place where your participation is going to matter more, and more, and more.

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