By Julie Omer, MBA, CPA, CFO, MSBO Board President, Chief Financial Officer, Owosso Public Schools
As Business Officials, people assume that we absolutely love working with numbers and perhaps all of us do to varying degrees. Perhaps that love stems from the perception that utilizing math and numbers leads to black and white answers and sometimes that is true. However, I would like to put forth a related premise by Hannah Fry, mathematician, that is a bit more intriguing and probably closer to the truth. Using math can sometimes bring order to complex situations.
Hannah Fry did a TED talk on “Is life really that complex”? It asked the question “Can an algorithm forecast the site of the next riot”. Her contention was that social behavior can be analyzed and perhaps predicted through analogies to natural phenomena, like the patterns of a leopard’s spots or the distribution of predators in the prey in the wild. In around nine minutes, she demonstrated her answer that life is simple and complex. That answer, in of itself, is not surprising but it did make me think how much we as human beings crave simple answers to complex questions where there are none. We are forced to break down these complex problems into smaller parts that are more manageable and able to use past experiences (equations) to attempt to solve them. It also gives us the opportunity to use other people’s expertise to help us solve the “parts”. For example, education has been presented with the unique opportunity for grants to solve a number of complex issues like safety, mental health, learning loss, staffing shortages, student attendance, etc. Rather than creating the expectation from our staff, students and community that we will come up with the silver bullet to solve the whole problem in the timeframe established by the grants, we will instead need to communicate that we will break the problems down and BEGIN to tackle the issues with the right resources and people to figure out the patterns in the chaos and “eat the elephant, one bite at a time”. A time-consuming process that, hopefully, will lead to long lasting results.
So even those that love equations and simple answers, here is a demonstration that even a math equation can cause chaos. This math equation was on twitter in 2019: Solve the equation ‘8/2(2+2)=?. Hannah Fry was consulted on the answer since people were so divided (no pun intended). She essentially responded “Both “1” and “16” are correct or neither one of them are because it’s just a badly written equation”. Here’s hoping that we can try to make a difference by coming up with “small” well written equations that we can solve together over time. Remember, the leopard’s spots didn’t change overnight.
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