What Camus Taught Me About Optimization

What Camus Taught Me About Optimization

…He is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

The hardest class I ever took was college freshman English. Watch this and you’ll have no trouble believing me. Fortunately, it was also the most rewarding.

I studied great literature from Homer to Sartre in Dr. Jackson’s class. One of my favorite authors was Camus. Specifically, his short essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”made an impression on me.

Sisyphus is condemned to the absurd – he must roll a rock up a hill, only for it to roll back down again. Camus argues that Sisyphus can find meaning in the absurd – his constant burden brings purpose.

I am working on a staffing optimization problem at work. My workload calculations make sense. But my allocation of staffing is more difficult. How can I turn a workload into a workflow?

I must become Sisyphus.

Constraints sound like a bad thing. But they actually help us make sense out of data. In my case, I can’t have 100 people come in at midnight and work for an hour. I need to account for patient satisfaction, room turnaround times, and union requirements.

These constraints, rather than hindering my analysis, actually lend purpose to the data.

The next time you are working on a problem, think about Sisyphus stuck rolling his rock. Find meaning in the assumptions you must make. Your data will find its purpose in these constraints.

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

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