The other day in my research methods class we were discussing theory: what makes it believable or interesting, when to use math versus a more discursive approach, and so forth.
Over the course of the seminar, I brought up these slides which are placed above my desk at home. These help me formulate theories, build models, and test them.
1. Burn the Math!
My first slide is from the 19th Century English economist Alfred Marshall on using mathematics in economics.
I adore this quote. Not only does it mandate that mathematics be used as a shorthand language only, it reminds us to illustrate our research with real-life examples.
It is with great sadness that I see economics tend to the reverse today — using extremely complicated math on topics so obscure as to not even appear as social science. It’s why I decided against pursuing doctoral studies in economics and instead went to information systems — a field with a blend of methods more suited to my talents, and to Marshall’s above steps.
2. The Business Analytics Sweet Spot
This one is from Professor Frank Acito at Indiana University.
The radio host Dennis Prager often says “studies either confirm what you already know, or they are wrong.” This slide suggests a spectrum between these opposites.
How can you hit the “sweet spot?” You want to challenge your audience’s assumptions — but not all of them. Is there a new way to explain how variables relate? Can you tweak the assumptions and end up with similar results?
3. “No Solutions, Only Trade-offs”
I love this one from Dr. Thomas Sowell. In fact, I think most management problems would be resolved if this mindset were adopted.
No single research method or model is perfect. A model by its very nature is an imperfect caricature of reality. There are weaknesses to whichever method chosen. Don’t look for perfection, instead look for the best option given the drawbacks.
What are yours?
These are the quotes and figures that influence how I conduct research. What about you? Do you have any model-building inspiration taped to your desk? Let us know?
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