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CONQUERING YOUR MATH

Posted by Tim Bryce on March 4, 2015

BRYCE ON LIFE

– You can run from math, but you certainly cannot avoid it.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
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I recently sat down with a local college professor of management to talk shop. Like me, he understands the necessity of tracking numbers in business, but appreciates the need for mastering socialization skills to engage people in completing project assignments and solving problems. In the course of our conversation, I asked him what should a high school student master before embarking on a business management curriculum in college. He pondered this for a moment, then, without hesitation, said, “Conquer your Math.”

I asked him what he meant by this remark. He explained a degree in business management involves a variety of skills to be mastered. Sure, students will use math in finance and economic classes, but they shouldn’t be learning Algebra and Calculus at the same time, it will only slow them down. Instead, they should come with such courses already under their belts, thereby not wasting time and making management courses more meaningful.

It has also become apparent high school students do not appreciate the role math has in our professional lives after school. “Why do I need to learn it. I’m just going to use financial software, spreadsheets, and computer calculators to manage my finances.” It is this growing dependency on technology which is ultimately deterring the need for mathematics.

Math teachers have difficulty articulating how it is used, and they certainly should not say something like, “I teach it because that is what I am paid to do.”

Just about every profession requires some form of math in one capacity or another. You would be hard pressed to find a job that does not require it. For example, math is essential for building contractors and construction workers, including plumbing and electrical workers. Architects and engineers cannot possibly design anything of substance without math, not just height and length, but structural capacity and load limits. Chemists require math in order to mix chemicals and create compounds for pharmaceuticals. Accounting involves the use of ledgers and other financial tools. Insurance companies use math to make claims adjustments, adjudications, and property appraisals. Math is used to solve crimes, extinguish fires, and tending to farms. Even the preparation of IRS Tax Forms (1040, Schedules A and B), which is something all adults must address, is a form of math we cannot avoid. Homeowners must also be cognizant of their mortgage and other loans, not to mention their bank and financial accounts. Oh yea, let us not forget credit cards, other expenses, and how our paycheck is calculated.

In my niche, the Information Systems world, math is actively used in both systems and programming. For example, a Feasibility Study is used to analyze a business problem or opportunity. There are several components to this study, such as the project scope, current systems analysis, requirements definition, system solution, and a cost evaluation summary. It is this last component, cost evaluation summery, that is critical for making a project decision (go/no go/revise). This involves estimating the time and costs involved in a project, calculating a schedule, and performing a cost/benefit analysis.

The cost/benefit analysis considers both the project costs and operational costs (before and after). From this, we can calculate the Break Even Point for the project, which a point in time where cost savings match accumulated development expenses. Typically calculated as: BEP = Investment divided by Average Annual Savings.

Also included is a Return on Investment (ROI), which is the ratio of projected cost savings versus amount invested. Typically calculated as: ROI% = (Average Annual Savings divided by Investment) X 100

Such figures are extremely important to executives. For example, I know of companies who will not touch a project unless it has a minimum of 200% Return On Investment.

In addition to Feasibility Studies, you find math in programming, particularly when analyzing transaction processing (volume of transactions versus time to process). This is critical for determining a suitable software solution, not to mention calculating data base capacity.

You also see math in such things as project/system audits where project expenses and schedules are evaluated, Request For Proposals (RFP), and Business Plans in general.

You can run from math, but you certainly cannot avoid it. This is why the professor’s comment about “Conquer your Math,” is so well put.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:  timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “CONQUERING YOUR MATH”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A W.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    “A long time ago now when my oldest daughter was in 3rd grade in Bowie MD (she just turned 36), I went to her “back-to-school” night at her private Montessori school. In Montessori, they like to use what they call “manipulatives” (things the kids can touch with their hands). So, I was watching as my daughter proudly showed me everything they were doing in class. When she got to a certain part, I asked her “Jo, how long have you been doing algebra?” She looked up at me and said rather nonchalantly “it’s not algebra dad, it’s math.” So, I asked the question again. She got rather indignant and told me the same thing, and then called the teacher over “Mrs. Riley, will you come tell my dad we’re not doing algebra, we’re doing math?”

    The teacher, who was also the headmistress of the school, came over and whispered “It’s really algebra, but we don’t tell them that because if we do, they’ll think it’s hard. So, we just teach them how to do it and after they’re comfortable, we tell them what it’s called.”

    I never really gave much thought to that notion, but when you really think about it, it’s a smart move. Kids inherently don’t think things are hard unless we tell them it is. We’ve made “algebra” and “calculus” “hard” subjects by communicating that notion to the kids, whether in words, or facial expressions, or body language. If you think hard – neither of those subjects, in and of themselves, is “hard” to grasp. I’m not saying that first graders should be doing algebra and third graders should be doing calculus, but if we just stop giving kids the idea that math is hard, it won’t be such a huge problem.

    Now, differential equations and complex variables, THAT’s hard stuff.

    The other thing we need to come to grips with: there are TWO kinds of mathematicians. APPLIED mathematicians are engineers, scientists, and people who USE math in everyday life. They pretty much don’t care how to PROVE things rigorously in a mathematical sense, but concern themselves more with how to USE the math in their lives. THEORETICAL mathematicians, on the other hand, don’t usually care HOW it is used, only that the PROOF is elegant. The problem is, most math professors are theoreticians. And, most math teachers cling to the necessity that we learn how to prove theorems and corollaries…not necessarily how the math might be USED. Therein lies the crux of the problem which you touched on – HOW DO I USE MATH, and why do I care. If we spent more time on how math is used in life and a bit less on how to prove that something is what we say, kids might actually get a little more “insight” into the need for math. Oh, I understand the need to be able to prove certain critical concepts, I just feel like we spend WAY too much time on the proving and too little on the using.”

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