I suspect that most of you had to take algebra in high school. One of the most basic things you learn is how to solve linear equations. You might have wondered, as I did at the time, how the heck is this going to prove useful other than passing an exam. As it turns out, there is quite a bit we can learn as businesspeople from them.
As you recall, in order to solve for the unknown variable in one of these equations, you must isolate the variable. As you’re doing that, you also need to be cognizant of the order of operations: multiplication and division are completed before addition and subtraction. Yes, I can feel you shuddering as you recall algebra class! Here is the point, however. We need to be doing exactly that in business.
As businesspeople, we need to ask ourselves “for what are we solving?” What is our unknown variable? It’s always amazing how few managers identify specific, measurable goals. We see this in reports that puke up lots of data but which fail to identify either what impact the actions reflected in the data might have or what actions might be taken to improve the business based on the data. We need to identify the unknown variable and to solve for it.
Second, we often forget the order of operations in our businesses. How often do you hear the “ready, fire, aim” complaint? We need to identify, plan, budget and evaluate constantly, recognizing that markets are fluid and opportunities may be fleeting. We can’t always chase the next shiny object or, at least, those which don’t fit into our business model and plan.
The flaw in my analogy today is that business is not “linear”, meaning that it’s rare that there is a straight line drawn as there must be in a linear equation. Nevertheless, isolating the variable in order to solve for it – identifying our goals and the data which allow us to measure our progress – is critical, don’t you think?