Training, Mathematics, and Communicating

I read a summary of a research report out of Carnegie-Mellon University this morning which found that early understanding of fractions and division predicts a student’s future math success (http://www.cmu.edu/homepage/society/2012/summer/math-success.shtml). Similarly, I read an interesting and somewhat humorous article in Forbes about the overuse of hackneyed business cliches (http://tinyurl.com/brtnput). You may be asking how do these seemingly unrelated articles relate.

When was the last time you sat in on a conference or symposium where a presenter flashed a long string of Greek letters on the screen for 5 seconds saying “And here is the equation for blah, blah, blah”? Maybe you really care what “blah, blah, blah” is, and have extensive experience in the field. You still feel inadequate that you didn’t understand the 15 Greek symbols in the 5 seconds you were allotted. After the seventh or eighth 5-second slide of Greek letters you either fell asleep or became really angry at the presenter. I assure you that the problem isn’t you. The problem is the lazy presenter.

How much effort does it take for a knowledgeable instructor to say “The value of A is a function of the values of C, D, R, Q, and Theta. Here is how they relate”? Perhaps your instructor really was just lazy in preparing his or her presentation. Perhaps your instrutor really doesn’t understand the relationship and hopes you won’t notice. In this video by Carnegie Mellon University’s Robert Siegler, he discusses how too many primary education teachers simply teach the rules without explaining why the process works.

I’ve made a commitment to challenge the drive-by equation presenters from now on. Why not join me?

The same problem exists with all the tired old business cliches. I believe that these cliches are frequently coined by lecturers, writers, and administrators who want only to be noticed. Most seem to lack the depth of knowledge to express a problem or its solution articulately. I find it amusing that accountants refer to accounting as the “Language of Business”. The problem, of course is that accounting is an “after the fact” measurement. It doesn’t innovate, design or build product, or sell anything. Real business speaks many languages. It speaks engineering, design, sales, innovation, manufacturing, customer service, and administration.

When we understand the richness and contribution of each “language”, we better understand our companies, products, employees, and business.

– Bill

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