My kids love pizzookies. That’s what we call a cookie baked in a pizza pan, like the one pictured here. (I think we first called it that after visiting a national restaurant chain where they were served.)
Baking a pizookie, or using any recipe, requires four different kinds of steps in the list of instructions–four Ps: Purpose, Procedure, Process, and Performance.
|ATOMs are like a recipe for using information properly to understand uncertainty and risk.
Obviously, we want to bake a pizookie and enjoy it’s deliciousness. More specifically, though, our purpose is to follow the recipe, the instructions, to the best of our ability, to help us create this culinary delight. Our purpose is not to learn something about cookies but to actually do something, to make them.
Some of the steps in the checklist are procedures–I would suggest that these are black and white without need of interpretation or judgment. “Add 2 cups sugar,” for example, is a quantitative step done in a particular order.
Then there are steps that do require judgment and experience: “fold ingredients together” or “mix well,” or “stir until…such and such consistency.” When is something mixed well? Did you know you can mix it too well and break down the chemical composition of the ingredients (thus altering the taste)?
For the inexperienced, these words can carry some uncertainty. There’s a specific culinary lexicon that one must understand in order to comply with these process steps, and part of understanding it, like language idioms, is experience.
Finally, when all is mixed together, the last step in transforming the ingredients is to do the actual cooking, and this is a performance step. How well the dessert turns out is a function (partially) of the ingredients and how we mixed them, but it also depends on setting the right temperature and monitoring the baking. The difference between process and performance are subtle, but performance is about measuring the outcome of a process. Our performance matters, because no one likes burnt pizzookie.
These four steps apply to equally well to both leading and also to using analytical tools (ATOMs). Understanding the purpose of a task (or tool) is critical to using it properly. There are black and white steps for use, and then there are processes which require judgment to implement. Finally, evaluating the outcome of the process and making sense of the results is key. Let me close with this question for thought:
Is it necessary to follow the steps exactly in a recipe?
How do we find our way then, when we are exploring the unknown, blazing a trail into uncharted territory? How do we apply elementary statistical principles to transform uncertainty into decisive action? What is to prevent us from making a preposterous application of ATOMs when we deal with very complex situations, those in which our intuition fails?
These questions are not much different from those faced by Chuck Yeager before he ever broke the sound barrier or Neil Armstrong as he took that first step on the moon. Neither of these men, nor anyone around them–with hundreds or thousands of highly educated, very scientific people on these teams–knew what to expect. Or did they…?
ATOMs is a monthly column that introduces analytical tools of mathematics and statistics and illustrates their application. To read more about ATOMs, you can read Where Do We Go From Here, or view the online workbook here.