If you Google “literacy foundation,” you’ll find over 26 million results. All of those on the first page are dedicated to actual efforts to promote literacy.
If, however, you Google “numeracy foundation,” there are barely 3.5 million results. The first page is filled with curriculum-based results, rather than organized charitable efforts to help people actually understand math. Thinking that perhaps few people use the word “numeracy,” I checked “math literacy.” This gave me a healthy 28 million results. I had hope — briefly — until I noticed that not one single result on the first page was an organized effort to promote such.
I mention this because I am afraid innumeracy is going to bring us down.
I can’t tell you how many otherwise educated, competent people I’ve worked with (no, not you, of course) who can’t manage basic mathematical concepts, nor identify an outlier in a list of numbers. Here is a real-life example: I had an employee in a METRICS position, for goodness sake, who was completing a report on site traffic sources. A list of visits per month for a specific referrer went something like this:
500 – 500 – 500 – 500 – 500 – 2,000,000 – 500 – 500 – 500 – 500 – 500 – 500
The list was submitted without comment. When I asked, “Hey, what was up with that 2 million number?”, the answer was, “ … what?”
I don’t think it’s asking too much to suggest that if there’s an outlier that extreme, that it occur to you that it is either a really interesting event to investigate or, um, user error. If you are just going to plug-and-chug numbers, well, my 8-year-old could do that. (In fact, Business Insider recently ran an excellent piece on teaching your child to love math.)
It’s not just that people don’t see the simplest of patterns. The trouble goes far deeper. I have been asked over and over again, by the same individuals, how to calculate basic marketing metrics like CPM (cost per thousand), PP/V (pages/visit), and CTR (click through rate).
Think you can go into a field that doesn’t require numbers? Think again. Editors are now tasked with knowing the traffic patterns and referral sources for their content. Sales reps have to figure out avails and CPMs, and know how to address performance reports, CTRs, etc. Marketers have to test and track EVERYTHING. Product folks have to figure out ROI, usability test results, and more. In short, “I’m Not a Math Person” is no longer an option.
Full disclosure: I am an English major turned metrics wonk. I had a boss once who could run several-step math problems in his head, and I fully admit I could not keep up. But you don’t have to have mad STEM skills. You just need to get rid of the “I’m-not-a-math-person” block and embrace the concepts, and let a calculator do the rest!