For this week’s Figure It Out, we asked the Operational Research (OR) team to tell us what their partners, family and friends say when they are asked what it is we do for a living. This proved to be an interesting (and quite entertaining) exercise for two reasons. Firstly, it helps us to see how we are marketing ourselves – it doesn’t matter what it is you tell people about something, it’s the part that they choose to remember that’s important – in the words of the wise poet Eminem, “I am whatever you say I am”. Secondly, it gives us some ideas about how to explain what an OR consultant does because we can see the details that people remember and learn from them. Here are the results – enjoy! I’m happy to report that on the whole, the people closest to us understand what we do pretty well. We’ll start with the best ones – where we are described as superheroes saving the world! “A superhero who helps to tackle all of the complexities within organisations that either they do not want to do or do not have the capability to solve. Using a range of secret weapons and special powers, including a splash of humour, a sprinkle of diplomacy and a wealth of skills and intellect, the management consultant has the ability (as Nike would say) to just do it!!” She says “I make the world a better place with maths” Some used examples to describe what we did: “My Granddad used to say I’m a ‘time and motion’ man – a person who used to stand behind workers in a factory with a stop watch and time how long each activity took. Then they would expect everyone else to achieve the same as the best person to improve productivity.” “When people ask me about what you do I say you advise business on how to be more efficient. You once told/sent me something which I thought was quite interesting. It was about an Airline whose passengers complained that it took a long time to get their bags. The solution was to make the walk longer from the plane to the terminal. The bags still took the same amount of time but the passengers had less time to wait because of the walk.” Some focused on the OR/maths element of what we do. A widely accepted definition of Operational Research (for those who still aren’t sure!) is “the discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions”. Some other interesting takes are: “Using complicated modelling and maths to examine effect of decisions or changes in policy etc in complex situations. Supports planning.” “Using maths in a business environment, using maths to mend things, maths to increase operational efficiency…. using numbers to show how things could work better” “Using mathematical models to replicate various scenarios thousands of times to understand typical or expected behaviours, patters and anomalies…?” “I’m going to go with a consultant who plays about with numbers and stats, makes models and stuff like that, in order to solve your client’s problems. Or something.” “OR is the practice of applying analysis to improve policy and/or processes.” “Applying maths to processes to help decision making” Some focused more on the consulting element: “You work for a company that helps other companies do things better.” You’re a “troubleshooter to help businesses be more efficient”. “I give advice to Government departments on whether or not they should carry out a project” My wife says I “go to companies who have business problems, work out what they need and then help them to solve their problem using computers.” I was glad to see only one mention of spreadsheets (one of those OR stereotypes): “I think you use big spreadsheets to simulate real life scenarios to enable you to forecast how to cope with those scenarios. You feed this info back to your client with possible solutions of any problems that you’ve predicted” Some were honest and admitted they still weren’t sure! “I don’t really understand, I usually tell my friends and workmates that it’s something complicated about going to companies and telling them how to do their job better and reviewing the data that surrounds their day to day operations” “My daughter (then aged about 10) used to say I did sometimes work at home on my computer – but never was more specific. She (now aged 17) probably does not really know.” “My mother has long since given up trying to understand what I do” “My wife always used to flannel through with something vague – usually about modelling and management science and businesses – hoping that that would be sufficient to change the subject. It always did!” “(His) job is a bit like Chandler’s (from US Hit TV Show Friends) because I’m still not quite sure what he actually does!” And when all else failed, some resorted to humour: “My son (aged 22) – who has not gone into OR or Consulting – is a font of jokes about management consultants.” “She does modelling” And then waits to see the response before going on to say that I do Excel modelling!” With thanks to Simon Konn’s partner, Kate, for our Figure It Out strapline “Using maths to save the world” and Jon Chadwick’s partner, Jennifer, for the idea to ask everyone else’s partners.
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