Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
I know that some people hate math. But I hope even if you’re not into math that you’ll stick with me on today’s article.
I’ve been listening to some MasterClass sessions and stumbled onto one by Dr. Terence Tao, who has been nicknamed “The Mozart of Mathematics”. He is a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles and has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field. I must admit, I had never heard of Dr. Tao, but I like math, so I decided to listen to his class … and I’m very glad I did.
Dr. Tao talked about how math makes things more connected. I thought this was a great business takeaway. In business, we often talk about math in the context of data and analytics. It’s possible that some people might say organizations talk about the numbers too much. Maybe instead of thinking about data and analytics as being cold and objective, it’s time to think of them as a way to connect the organization. And view them as a language to help us make those connections and communicate better.
Keeping that in mind, Dr. Tao’s MasterClass was focused on how we can use math and problem solving to better make connections for ourselves and around the organization. I believe we can apply these takeaways to the way we use data and analytics.
Getting stuck is normal. It’s okay to not know everything. Dr. Tao discussed how being a mathematician was challenging because everyone always expected him to have the answer and sometimes, he didn’t. It’s possible that we need to do more research to get insights which will help us get unstuck. Sometimes we just need to let problems go until they’re ready to be solved. There was one other thing he mentioned when talking about getting stuck and not knowing answers that really resonated with me. He said that if you never get stuck maybe you need to ask yourself if you’re challenging yourself enough.
Have a mentor. Be a mentor. This also came up in RuPaul’s MasterClass. Mentoring is a valuable activity for our personal and professional lives. Mentors could be useful in helping us frame problems and solutions. They could be helpful in reminding us that getting stuck is normal and it’s okay not to know everything (see above).
Learn how to identify problems. Dr. Tao talked about how organizations often set themselves up for frustration and possibly failure because they don’t correctly identify the problem. Three things to note: 1) If you have a big problem, it might be necessary to break it down into smaller more manageable parts. 2) Have a good problem-solving process and make sure people know how to use it. And 3) Become comfortable with being a part of a bigger process. We might need help from others to solve a problem.
Disrupt your thought process to change your thinking. This ties into the first bullet about getting stuck. Sometimes we might get stuck because we feel that we must solve a problem a certain way, meaning that we feel we have to arrive at a specific outcome. It could make sense to do a “reset”, whether that’s individually or as a team. I’m not saying abandon your process but is there a way to look at the data differently to gain better insights.
Show your “outtakes”. Do you ever watch the bloopers from your favorite TV show or movie? I’m reminded of a scene in the Apple TV show Ted Lasso where the team loses badly. Of course, part of the coaching process is to review the game so the team can learn from the loss. But Ted shows the game on fast forward to the theme music from the “Benny Hill” show. It allows the team a light moment before discussing the seriousness of the loss. Often our flubs or first attempts can be very helpful and a learning moment. But we do have to get comfortable with facing mistakes.
Failure is okay. Speaking of mistakes, it’s possible you will not achieve your original goal but that’s okay because you learned something along the way. Learning from that mistake could help you eventually solve the problem. Or possibly help the organization reframe the problem. Or even help us reset our thinking. The point being that we’re not perfect and we are going to make mistakes.
One of the reasons that I liked Dr. Tao’s MasterClass is because of his authenticity and honesty in talking about data and analytics. He is a very smart and accomplished professional. Many of us are too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where we might feel pressure to have all the answers or be afraid to admit our mistakes.
From an organizational standpoint, I sometimes see this in managers. Once a person is promoted to manager, they feel they need to know everything. That employees won’t respect them if they say that they don’t know something. Or they’re concerned about telling their boss that they made a mistake. Yes, we need to have well-defined processes and follow-them. But instead of punishing people for not being perfect, let’s help them turn the moment into a way to strengthen organizational connections.36