Doing math as an analyst; work before school

  1. I pick up my pen and write down what I see on the screen: 600 out of 14000 rows are selected based on the criteria A = 2 (that’s 4%); if I switch over to A = 5, 135 out of 14000 are selected (that’s only 1%) — I now know the probability of several outcomes based on two possible inputs. I do this a few more times and determine the probabilities of several more outcomes based on more inputs, and in the process understand the data much better. I document this so my future self, and others who may use the data, are aware.
  2. Salesperson A should have a overall sales target 10% less than Salesperson B. Given sales targets for multiple products, I have to determine how much to allocate to Salesperson A and how much to allocate to Salesperson B. I make a few notes, writing  down in algebraic terms the relationship between the total sales target, the sales target for person A, and the sales target for person B. I perform rudimentary simultaneous equations and input the formula into Excel, quickly calculating the breakdown for each of the products.
  3. The variable component of a salesperson’s salary is 30%, and  30% of that is determined by subjective factors, input by the line manager; the rest is determined by performance against sales targets. I create a spreadsheet formula that allows the line manager to rate the salesperson from 0-100%, automatically adjusted to fit the weights of the variable component and subjective factors.

I had such a hard time trying to figure out why I needed learn math. That’s why sometimes work before school makes sense.

Perspective Matters

120. 130. 140. We were now at 150km/h and cruising past traffic on our left, traffic already exceeding the official speed limit.

Let’s be clear: I wasn’t the driver (let’s call him Mr. X) In another world, the world before the one I had just entered, I would have been one of those on the left, cursing the reckless driving of an imbecile speed demon.

An accident waiting to happen, I would have thought. Who are these people?

But I was in the car now. In the back passenger eat of Mr. X, one of these “imbecile speed demons”. One of these people whom I was sure I’d dislike if I ever saw them outside the context of the road.

It hit me then and there that this wasn’t a person I disliked. This wasn’t a person I’d not hang out with. This wasn’t a person whom I’d have thought of as an “imbecile speed demon.” I knew the driver. I knew him to be rather nice. I knew him to be rather thoughtful.

It was interesting to watch his behaviour on the road. Despite the excessive speed and tailgating, he  signaled when switching lanes; had no malice whatsoever when he gangstered cars out of the way (in a very interesting “it’s not personal; it’s purely business” type of way); and knew his place in the driving pecking order (“if a car can go faster than mine, I’d tend to leave it alone.”)

I also loved the fact that if another car cut him off at even insaner speeds, he’d just let it go. Despite my not being quite the speed demon, if another car cut me off I’d feel pretty pissed, and I’d throw a little tailgating fit. Who’d be the imbecile here?

Soon after the car ride I realised something: that having just had the experience I had, I’d never look at a speeding car the same way. Each time I saw one, I’d be reminded of “Mr. X”; a very decent human being who just had a  thing for fast cars, and give that car an imaginary tip of my imaginary hat.

As an analyst I have a thing for data; for numbers. It is my world. I use data and numbers to describe THE world in the best way I can. Despite my belief that numbers can often describe a world better than its inhabitants can, it is to my consternation that this belief isn’t very popular with the people who’s worlds I describe.

But like how the change in  perspective on those driving on the overtaking lane, going at what I’d describe as insane speeds, I’d thought I’d understood, but never really did. Maybe the numbers do tell a story. But it’s not the only one.

How vital it is for us to step into one another’s shoes every once in a while. To experience another world; to broaden our perspective — a perspective that even for the most open-minded of us is probably smaller than we  think it is.

Business vs. IT

I felt like a lawyer. The call was in less than 12 hours, and I was busy preparing my case, consolidating evidence and building my story. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% behind the argument I was preparing to put across, but I didn’t really have much of a choice. I had to believe — how could I convince others if I couldn’t even convince myself?

But at the same time, I really wanted to steer clear on the “us vs. them”. Together with allies “from the other side”, we were working hard on framing it from a collaborative angle. It’d do us all no good if our discussion disintegrated into a blame game.

The situation at hand was a classic business vs. IT situation. Business says “we asked for this”, and IT says “no, you didn’t.” Whatever the case, the project deadlines weren’t going to be hit and nobody wanted to be responsible.

The funny thing is, if you asked me, I’d say no one was responsible (or that we all were). It was one of the first times we were doing anything close to what we were doing, and it was almost expected that hiccups like these were going to occur.

Requirements were defined, and IT made good on those requirements. Business was as clear as they could be on those requirements, but apparently not clear enough.  But how could they be? The project was a little too big and too fuzzy to be executed perfectly from the get-go.

Maybe a more iterative approach might have worked better, with all parties agreeing at the start that for a period of say, two or three weeks, we’d all be in a transition phase, where 70% of the requirements were met and the other 30% part of some type of agile-development, exploratory process, where things didn’t need to work perfectly but problems rectified quickly.

True, we could have spent more time thinking through and defining better requirements. But even if we spent an additional year we might not have uncovered requirements buried deep under others, the discovery of which were dependent on the implementation of the others. Would the need for a parachute have come to pass if planes hadn’t yet been invented? Would these later requirements have come to pass if the earlier ones hadn’t been implemented?

Whatever the case, this was an interesting situation to be in.

Stars

I used to look up to the stars with a quiet mind and a quiet heart, thinking but not thinking; wondering but not wondering. It’d always amaze me how quickly the stars moved if I tracked them against something close by, like the tree outside that partially blocked my view. Without the tree as a reference, though, it was impossible to see how the stars moved. Which was good when you just wanted to get lost in time and space.

There was once I tracked a group of stars all the way across the sky, from the moment they appeared behind a neighbour’s house to the moment they got lost in the brightening sky. I hadn’t realised it, but I’d been wondering and wandering for what must have been half a day.

Different, with a better story

I’m currently watching The Voice of China. On that show, there’s this singer called Perhat. He’s, in the words of his fans, an “Uyghur Rock Star”. I’m not really a fan. But that’s just me. Many, many others think he’s the next Bob Dylan.

There is something about him. He’s different from the other contestants. He voice reminds me of Tom Waits (whose song The Piano has been Drinking, video below, I fell in love with at first hear).

The thing about Perhat is that he seems really loveable (I remember in an earlier one-on-one round, when he kicked out his adversary he refused to raise his hand in victory. His adversary had actually helped him a lot with the language of the song, as he wasn’t fluent in Chinese,  and he felt bad at kicking out the very guy who helped him win).

He’s also got a really sad backstory (I was almost going to say “blessed with” but if that’s blessed leave me out of the blessing please). Every time he sings, if you’re aware of his backstory, you really want him to win. To do otherwise just seems heartless.

But… BUT…

It just seems odd that he’s gotten this far in the contest, and I’m just wondering if it’s due to his being different.

By remaining uncategorisable, essentially in a different league but not necessarily a better one, Perhat has made it extremely difficult to judge him.

During the one-on-ones, we have singers singing standard songs, with standards of quality we can easily make sense of (“she sings well, but she’s no Adele”). Perhat, on the other hand, sings in a way that we’re not really accustomed to hearing. We have no real benchmark. Because we can’t make sense of how to score Perhat, we might be inclined to think it’s much better than we think.

The proliferation of English songs in The Voice of China has also been a little put-offish. They sing technically well, but because you know it’s their second (maybe third) language, it’s difficult to really believe the emotion behind the songs (I can’t help but think they’re focusing harder on recalling  the phonetics than the singing).

But still, they insist on singing English songs. And it seems to pay off. Of the episodes I’ve seen, those who’ve sung English songs, have managed to overcome stronger opponents who’ve sung in Mandarin. Foreign songs are a novelty for Chinese singers, and difficult to judge due to unfamiliarity. And, like Perhat, because it’s difficult to make sense of how well the song has been sung, we might be inclined to think it’s better than it really is.

Could it be the blue ocean strategy at work?

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