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What's in a Number?

Optimize Blog - February 11, 2013 - 0 comments

The record for the largest prime number has been broken and it wasn’t even close. The new find broke the old record by more than four million digits…..
A prime number is only divisible by itself and 1, with the first ones being 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11. Although of little significance, they have long fascinated amateur and professional mathematicians and the discovery of a new one happens rather infrequently. This latest discovery was made by Dr. Curtis Cooper who is a bit of a celebrity in math circles as he had already found two earlier highest prime numbers. A hat trick for Curtis then.
If you like the idea of finding yourself a big prime number then you are going to need more than a simple calculator. This latest giant prime number was found as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), a project that uses the spare processing power of more than 360,000 volunteer computers to look for and calculate the numbers. Dr. Cooper’s computer took 39 days of flat-out computing to verify that this number was indeed a prime.
Apparently there are an infinite amount of prime numbers, and so the hunt for the largest in recent years has centered on rare Mersenne primes, named after Marin Mersenne, a 17th-century French monk and mathematician. Mersenne primes are 2 to the power of p minus 1, in which p is also a prime number and this latest prime is only the 48th Marsenne prime to be found.
Being passionate about numbers is also an important part of being a leader. Ultimately commercial performance in business comes down to hitting the right numbers and everything an organization does is geared towards achieving its goals and KPI’s. With clients we often see companies chasing too many numbers and worse still, not understanding how the critical numbers are actually achieved or measuring things just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.
Statisticians tend to want to measure anything that is measureable and leaders sometime fall into the same trap particularly when performance is not where it needs to be, creating the desire to analyze to even greater levels to try and find an answer.
It is important that we measure the right things that mobilize and motivate our organization and teams toward fulfilling our objective. So, look at your reporting packs and ask yourself, “Does this line measure or motivate us to reach our goals, objectives, and purpose?” When we collect only the data that gets us to our goals, then we are more likely to reach our goals.
So, why do we need numbers? Numbers enhance accountability. If we don’t measure it our people will not think it is important and therefore they will not be engaged or motivated to achieve.
Numbers help us to stay focused. What is our real purpose? If we measure everything our teams will not know what to focus on. Measure only what you want your people to do. It might be nice to know other data points, but each extraneous data point potentially dilutes the focus.
We usually achieve what we measure. If you measure it, people will do it, as long as you are measuring what is essential to success.
We communicate what is important by what we measure. Not only is what we measure communicated as important, the order in which we organize our reporting communicates the importance of each data point we are tracking. Always start with the most important item that gets you to success.
Numbers allow us as leaders to evaluate progress and make course corrections. You must evaluate your data as soon as possible and as frequently as possible in order to catch trends. Trends let you know if you are moving towards success or on a trajectory that will lead to failure. If you collect data, but never evaluate it, then you are wasting everyone’s time, effort, and money.
Numbers also assist in decision-making related to strategy and resourcing. Our data gathering should inform us regarding what resources we may need and where to spend critical or limited resources.
For the record, the latest prime number – 2 to the power of 57,885,161 minus 1 – consists of 17,425,170 digits and if you spent 12 hours a day writing one number per second, you would finish writing the whole number in 403 days! Thankfully, in business, we are usually dealing with less complex numbers….

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