Make Critical Business Decisions Quantitatively, 97.3% of Quants Say

Don’t think you have to choose between left- or right-brain thinking when it comes to decision making. In fact, creatives and quants complement each other and can boost strategic thinking within groups. Effective decision making combines the best ideas from humans and machines. Machines are people too.
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Odds are I made up that statistic in the title. Does that make me a quant or a creative? Meanwhile, though, there are critical business decisions to be made. It seems there always are. Making critical business decisions proves we’re very important businesspeople.

We must decide whether to make those decisions with the quants and their shiny petabyte teraflop machines or the creatives and their glorious, soaring humanoid imaginations.

Or not. I vote not.

A recent Op-Ed by Timothy Egan in The New York Times, “Creativity vs. Quants,” eloquently and intelligently brought into the digital age the ancient debate between tastes-great and less-filling. Mr. Egan wisely did not take sides even as he noted victories and defeats for both clans. And yet there is still an either-or undercurrent, perhaps not from Mr. Egan but certainly in the general culture. As for me, I vote not to make quants and creatives an either-or dichotomy.

Creatives are just like people. Their creativity is not quite as pure and unlimited as we might think, though, because creatives make assumptions and follow paradigms like other people. And, just like other people (including quants), they’re not so hot at arithmetic.

Quants are just like people too. Even their computers are just like people, because people tell computers how to think. Like other people, quants can confuse correlation and causation and can extrapolate irrelevant pasts into the future.

What creatives do that makes them so valuable is they vigorously push boundaries. What quants do that makes them so valuable is they rigorously test ideas.

The real issue isn’t the either-or dichotomy. Both creatives and quants are capable of nonsense. Neither creatives nor quants have a monopoly on insight. Each appreciates the other, even if they keep it a secret.

The real issue also isn’t a tug of war. Let’s have bipartisan agreement on what my side wants. That strategy — that marketing strategy — works only in Congress. Oh, wait.

The real issue is synergy. Teams of creatives and quants may be unruly but they are synergistic because each clan supplies what the other lacks. Together they can produce better critical business decisions than either could alone.

I’ve seen computer-based “decision tournaments” calculate creatively. They were programmed (by me) to take ideas from creative humans and explore them in hundreds of millions of simulations. What came out caused me to rethink what (I thought) I knew about, for example, pricing strategy. I know those insights wouldn’t have come from human beings because 1) I hadn’t thought of them in my four decades in competitive strategy, 2) I haven’t seen or heard anyone else reveal them, and 3) none of the 500-plus people who entered experimental pricing strategies came up with the strategy that did best.

You want me to identify those great pricing-strategy insights for you? I’ll do something better: I’ll give you the opportunity to find them for yourself. If you would like to test your own pricing strategies in a decision tournament, you can. You can enter the Top Pricer Tournament™. Free, non-commercial, confidential, no mailing lists, no regrets the next morning. Entering will take you about 10-15 minutes. What you learn will last far longer. Competing.com will host a free, non-commercial webinar to share the results with you and give you the opportunity to ask questions.

To enter the Tournament, please write to info <at> competing.com. Entries are welcome through May 16, 2014.

Back to my assertion that computers can derive creative strategies. You can take my word for it. If that’s not enough, take Garry Kasparov’s.

Garry Kasparov was the world chess champion. IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat him in a 1997 match. Kasparov contested the match but that’s not important for this essay. What is important is what Kasparov said about a move Deep Blue made in a game Deep Blue won. Kasparov said “a chill went down my spine” because Deep Blue had made a move that no human would have made.

That’s a remarkable thing. Deep Blue didn’t know anything about chess that Kasparov didn’t know, just like my decision tournaments don’t know anything about pricing strategy that I don’t know. But Deep Blue was able to explore ideas without prejudging. What’s remarkable is not only that Deep Blue did so well. What’s also remarkable is that Kasparov did so well.

Kasparov disputed the match because he said the computer had shown, according to Wikipedia, “deep intelligence and creativity” and so a human must have made those moves. IBM said the moves were made by the computer. What human could beat Kasparov anyway?

We can insist on a dichotomy and force a choice between the creative human and the quant machine. Or we can imagine this: what chess player, human or machine, could beat a team of Kasparov and Deep Blue? And there have been matches between human/computer teams. That’s leading not only to more insight into strategy but also more insight into how to develop strategy (which is what those decision tournaments are for). See Andrew McAfee’s article on the HBR Blog Network and Garry Kasparov’s in The New York Review of Books.

Two things to remember.

One: A steam drill didn’t beat John Henry. A human being with a steam drill beat John Henry.

Two: There are two kinds of people in this world: those who thrive on false dichotomies, and those who don’t.

Do you agree quants and creatives are not inherently at war? What would happen to strategic thinking and decision making if companies ignore either creatives or quants? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

About the author  ⁄ Mark Chussil

MARK CHUSSIL is founder & CEO of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc., and, with Benjamin Gilad, a cofounder and partner of Sync Strategy. He has conducted business war games, built custom strategy simulators, and taught workshops on strategic thinking for dozens of Fortune 500 companies on six continents, resulting in billions of dollars made or saved.

A pioneer in quantitative business war games and a highly rated speaker, he has 35 years of experience in competitive strategy. One of his simulation technologies has won a patent; a patent is pending on another. He has written three books, chapters for five others, and numerous articles.

He has been quoted in Fast Company, Harvard Management Update, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. He received the Fellows Award from the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals society in 2013. He earned his MBA at Harvard University and his BA at Yale University.

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