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Computer Scientists vs Martha Stewart vs Yelp

Often times to get ideas outside the bubble of distribution and supply chain that we mostly operate within, I read about innovations in other industries, watch TED talks, read books from professors and mad scientists, and so on. You know, the robot that allows cows to milk themselves when they would like - Sometimes it's just an interesting read or fascinating concept that keeps me pursuing new ideas and challenging the status quo. Sometimes it relates to what we do far more than I had ever expected. This is one of those occasions:

Tom Griffiths, a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Princeton put on a fantastic TED talk late last year (link here - about decision making.

To summarize, Tom states "the best algorithms are about doing what makes the most sense in the least amount of time." He continues that "when computers face hard problems, they deal with them by making them into simpler problems -- by making use of randomness, by removing constraints or by allowing approximations." He concludes that "solving those simpler problems can give you insight into the harder problems, and sometimes produces pretty good solutions in their own right."

I encourage you to watch the short talk (it's only 11 minutes) as Tom relates computer science to Martha Stewart as well as picking where to go for dinner tonight. How in the world...? You'll have to watch!

My takeaways were that we need to stop trying to find the perfect solution, the perfect plan, the perfect anything - it's likely there isn't one. And if there is, by the time you've found it - changes in your business, in the world even, have provided a different set of constraints and challenges so you're no longer trying to solve the exact same problem. Be light, be nimble. Put a change into place that you know is a move in the right direction. Adapt along the way. Be aware that you will get things wrong. You will make mistakes. It is a guarantee that some piece of this will fail. Simply learn and improve with the next iteration. Another speaker I've seen (you can watch him on TED Talks or Youtube), Olympic Gold Medalist Adam Kreek states: failing, and failing "successfully" grows self confidence and self esteem. He should know as he's both won and lost at the Olympics.

Imagine if computer scientists, software developers, or engineers wouldn't build or design something unless it was perfect. We would have no buildings. No cars. No computers. No computer programs. Imagine if they were afraid to fail and take risks? Why then do we insist on spending an insane effort to get us to a place that will ultimately be no better than if we took Tom's advice: Do what makes the MOST sense in the LEAST amount of time? We've all heard the Pareto Principle - the "80/20 Rule." Adam Grant, the top rated professor at Wharton, has also studied innovators and their approach to invention and strategic change - a thread that is common is taking a reasonable risk based on fairly solid information and a mostly formed plan, then adapting and updating the plan as you learn from the results of phase 1, version 1, pilot study 1, whatever it may be. Jonathan Byrnes, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and author of Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink (great read!) also relates, stating "an important key to most business analysis - is to operate at 70 percent accuracy. This will give you the answers you need to move forward, and it will keep you from getting bogged down in endless arguments about the minutiae that won't change an action. Once you have identified a direction, you can sharpen your pencil to tune it up."

So put down this article, er...close this tab in your browser and revisit your white board with your big 3 projects for this month. Any that are carryovers from last month, that have stalled, that aren't progressing, that are waiting on more information more thought more ideas...put the above plan to work. Break it into small pieces. Take the first one and get a 70-80% accurate plan put into motion TODAY.

I'm going to do the same.



"Progress Demands Change"

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