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What I wish I had known then - An excerpt from article appearing in OR/MS Today

What I wish I had known then

Background: This article came about from a series of discussions between CANA’s Harrison Schramm* and MORS** Director and NPS Faculty Member Captain (USN) Brian Morgan, culminating in an one-off lecture on 24 August 2017. After receiving several requests for slides, Harrison and Brian decided that it would make more sense to simply write an article, which appears in the October, 2017 issue of OR/MS Today ***. Below is a short summary of the original piece.

In our Profession we stand on the shoulders of Giants, but one cannot expect to get there without a ladder. In summary, we identify the following bolded as the key insights:

Do Work That Matters

Consider the following ‘quad chart’ of importance and difficulty:

work that matters quad chart

Figure 1: Your professional life. If you find yourself blessed to be in the top left quadrant, congratulations, stay there as long as you can. If you find yourself in the lower right corner, get out of there fast!

If you find yourself doing work that is both important and challenging, congratulations! Savor that moment, because it is our experience that if you can spend 15 percent of your time in that quadrant you should count yourself blessed.

Work That Doesn’t Matter: Feeding Pigeons

No matter how good you are, or how hard you try, you will find yourself occasionally in the “not challenging, not important” quadrant.

We offer two possibilities: First, work that is not interesting can be made interesting by being a test bed for a new programming language or a technique. This is like Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” using “wax on, wax off,” turning the mundane task of polishing the car to training for competitive karate. The second possibility is more nuanced: look for a problem that is important using a similar technique and apply what you’ve learned.

There are at least three “keys” to doing work that matters:

1. An important question. It turns out that no matter how elegant a statistical model of washing our socks we build, it will never be top-tier work. This is because it is a question that nobody cares about! The first, key ingredient to having important work is to work on an important question. 2. Quality data. No data set is perfect. Quality data – that stakeholders respect – is necessary and time should be devoted to it. 3. A proponent. Perhaps the most important factor, and the most elusive. A proponent is a human being, usually not an analyst, who has the authority to take the work you have done, turn to the people who run the system under test and say, “Go do what these folks just recommended.”

Collaborations and Teamwork We cannot think of any worthwhile pursuit that is done totally alone. Even if one were a walking O.R. encyclopedia, they would still need peer review to avoid the intellectual “echo chamber.” Unsurprisingly, good teamwork, clear and concise communications, and meeting goals are so valued in colleagues. A good teammate is a good teammate.

Focusing on What’s Important This means taking some time each day and dedicating it to the state of the practice. The payoff for dedicated 30 minutes per day is well worth the effort. Our skills are constantly eroding, and keeping them sharp is a part of the very definition of “professional.”

It is easy to “lose one’s way” in the sense that we get focused on the day-to-day of making money and meeting client demands. Focused reflection and self-study prevent intellectual atrophy.

Synthesis: How to Become Influential Find important work, be a good teammate and keep focused on what’s important. To become influential, one must bring these qualities out in others by projecting these traits, through example and encouragement, among your colleagues every day.


*Follow Harrison (@5MinuteAnalyst on twitter) and the rest of the CANA Advisors’ Team (@CANAADVISORS on Facebook and twitter) for more insights, blog posts and articles delving into data, logistics and analytics in creative and helpful ways.

**MORS is the Military Operations Research Society (MORS). Its focus is to enhance the quality of analysis informing national and homeland security decisions.

***OR/MS Today is a publication of For more information on INFORMS or to subscribe to OR/MS Today visit their website at

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