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Modeling as Art

February 15, 2010

Just a short update from the grad school trenches for today.  Decisions Modeling continues to be one of my favorite classes from the MBA program so far.  And I continue to realize that this is largely because I am a nerd (and also because the professor is really great). 

I did struggle a couple times in the last DM class to stay awake, right at first.  I’d had a long day at work, and the previous two nights I’d been up way to late working on homework for class.  I felt awful about it because I sit very close to the front and center.  I managed to pull myself out of it, though, and focus in on the class.  A good amount of the class was building more Excel and Modeling “ninja” skills, as the prof calls them.  Much of class was spent looking at random number and distributions and other skills related to sensitivity analysis.  We talked more about objective functions and constraints in linear programming models, and how very robust models can flip the two on their heads, solving the same problems using different approaches.  I asked whether we might see situations where we would find it useful to spend the time solving the problem from opposite directions and the professor answered, emphatically, that YES, very complex and difficult problems can benefit from taking multiple approaches to them.

Meanwhile, one of the benefits of the @Risk add-on is that we can define an entire distribution within a single cell (and reference that distribution in our formulas which will generate distributions for answers).  We can also define a distribution based on empirical, observed data.

So, yeah, no cool writing thoughts to glean from all this.  But, the deeper we get into this modeling stuff, the more I am coming to realize that spreadsheet modeling is really working art with numbers.  The professor has said over and over things like “there’s an art to this”.  And I can see that he’s right.  That’s the reason I like this stuff.  I’m a very creative type who happens to have a very logical and mathematical mind.  This sort of modeling appeals to both those halves.  That’s also why I like writing so much: a well written story or novel operates within a very structured environment, and the way language works is has an emergent internal logic and consistency.  Creating something new within that structure, using sound logical principles, is very gratifying.

Happy writing…  or modeling.

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