Monday, January 4, 2010

Nutty's creativity: 2nd grader analytics

Here's the answer to a little question I asked on Twitter. It's straight from a math textbook for 2nd graders. It's a nice little demonstration of critical thinking and how sometimes, the obvious answer might not be the best one.

Nutty's creativity

M.Mansa, professor in a 2nd grade elementary class, asked: "Which number doesn't fit in the following series? 2, 4, 5, 6, 8"
    Every student found the right answer, except one, Nutty. It's 5, everybody knows that!
    Except Nutty, who says "I thought about it, but I prefer 4 because..."
    Unhappy, Prof. Mansa assign Nutty to write a text on "Why I should have chosen 5". Here's what he wrote.
    "At first, I thought about 5 because it's the only odd number. But why not 8? It's the only one drawn from one closed loop line. For me, the best answer to a problem is often the 2nd one. It shows I can go beyond the obvious and be creative.
    After, I thought about 2, by replacing it with 7, we would end up with a nice suite of 4,5,6,7,8...
    I looked at 6, but didn't see anything special about it. Then I thought... Euréka! It's the only one in the series than can be reversed to create another number.
    At last, I considered 4. 4 is the only one drawn from straight lines, without any curves. It's also my preferred number because April 4th (4th of the 4th month) is my birthday.
    I think I should have chosen 5... as everyone else. After all, it's the only one that can't be added to another number of the series to sum up to 10: 2+8=10, 4+6=10...
    Ok, I'll take 5!"
    Reference: "Défi mathématique, 1er cycle, #2", Cheneliere/McGraw-Hill, Michel & Robert Lyons.

    Relation to analytics

    Wikipedia defines analytics has "the science of analysis, or how an entity (i.e., business) arrives at an optimal or realistic decision based on existing data." The series above is a nice little data set. Drilling down on the meaning of analysis, we see it's "the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it." The breakdown of the above question is a nice example. We've seen how data can be used to tell carefully crafted stories that are absolutely valid given the right context. It relates to one of the seven online analytics axioms defined by my friend Christopher Berry: "It is possible for there to be two optimal, equally true, answers to a problem."

    Some people have harder times developing critical thinking. Despite the fact employers often look for experienced, hands-on professionals, the path to become more than a number cruncher and report junkie is to develop expertise in all of the key process areas of analytics. Critical thinking being one of the essential skills of a good analyst.

    My advice is this: in 2010, gain more hands on experience, but also strive to develop your understanding and mastering of the underlying concepts of online analytics.

    Happy 2010!
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