Sure, there's a need for folks with serious mathematics chops to help companies make sense of the rapidly growing amount of information on the Internet, in their databases and elsewhere. Without those folks, all of that data won't do companies much good. Data without insight is like a day without sunshine -- or something. I wrote about it earlier today, citing a New York Times story in which Google's chief economist says the next "sexy job" will be statisticians.
But what about more run-of-the-mill math skills? Writing on The Effective CIO blog, Chuck Musciano makes the case that there's a need for those too. He uses the rapid exhaustion of Cash for Clunkers funds to illustrate the fact that "no one can do math in their heads anymore." He's got a point. With $4,000 for each trade-in and 23,000 car dealers in the U.S.., why didn't it occur to anyone that $1 billion wouldn't last long? He writes:
If you seek to run a successful business, or an organization within a business, you'll need to make many rapid decisions based on numerical analysis. If you cannot run those numbers in your head, you will not make good decisions. Pricing, licensing, system loads, capacity planning, leasing terms, scheduling, manpower loading, you name it: quick, accurate math skills are the cornerstone of effective management.
Musciano notes he's sat through many meetings where no one questioned obviously outlandish claims. They didn't do the math. He wraps it up:
A big part of leadership is knowing when to say "Wait a minute!" Quick arithmetic skills can play a big part in honing that skill. Almost all of us can do simple arithmetic, but how many of us use those skills every day to increase our odds of success?