in Business Design

Thinking numerically

I’m taking a class in financial models to round out my skill set. The instructor said something interesting last night, taking care to put us in the right frame of mind for this work. He said, “Teach yourself to see the world in numbers. Try to think numerically.” In that comment I hear that quantitative work is not merely work, it’s a worldview, a mindset. Hearing this, to me, it validates talking about design as a way of thinking, and by investigating different areas I see how they differ but also how they can fit together. As I go through the class I want to see how thoroughly I can mesh the two.

Incidentally, to help one think numerically he recommended the book What The Numbers Say.

  1. I was taught that financials are in the main historical ways of keeping score. The challenge is to develop a forward thinking way of numbering for deisn conceptual thinking! I remember back in 1971 when the RB211 aero engine development brought Rolls-Royce to its knees: I was a designer on the team! Our Chief designer had to get a new version for an aircraft project for Boeing. the cost accountants said £300m to do it and we knew we couldn’t get the money. Our chief designer worked out that we had got machine tools with the operatives sitting idle in the workshops, material in anticipation of orders, etc. so we looked at future additional cost… we did it for £60m and the future of RR was set that day!

  2. Jim,

    That’s a great story.

    When the accountants are separated from the reality of business operations, they’re bound to produce innaccurate models.

    My instructor did make special effort to emphasize that models are not reality, they are a collection of estimates that together make a guess. He told a story of how his mentor used a slide rule which of course only produces orders of magnitude, and he said, “With a sliderule, we knew it was a guess. Excel fools you with its accuracy.”

  3. Another example: Engineering is not just thinking about how to build things – it is seeing the problem and how out to solve it. When you learn engineering you learn how to solve problems – the different domains, electrical, mechanical, etc., just present different types of problems. Problem solving as a mindset, a world view.

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