Do O.R. people make business entrepreneurs?

Although I live in the U.K., I subscribe to the magazine OR/MS Today, which comes from INFORMS, the US equivalent of the UK OR Society.  Besides having news and interesting articles, there are regular columnists, reflecting on our discipline.  In April's issue, the column (Oracle) by Doug Samuelson is headed "The Runner's Parable".  (It is only accessible to subscribers.)

In the parable, one of the characters says: "Generating new ideas and avoiding mistakes are two completely different management styles, and you can't do both at the same time."  When I read that, it made me think about the place of the OR scientist in a management structure.  Which style corresponds to most OR work?  I suspect that the answer is in the latter style - avoiding mistakes.  That is not to say that OR work does not sometimes deal with "new ideas", but generally OR is concerned with improving and investigating the current work of management, and helping to avoid mistakes.

I wondered whether Doug S had taken this sentence from some other source, but a search online did not find it.  Maybe it appears in print somewhere?  Whether or not it is part of some established management philosophy, it is an astute observation.  I think of the friends in management positions, and recognise that very few actually combine the skills to innovate and avoid problems.  Perhaps some of the world's economic ills at present are the result of too few senior managers with the style of "avoiding mistakes"?

On a number of occasions, I have been part of a discussion about the career paths of those who start as OR scientists.  (The proportion of people with OR qualifications who spend their whole career in the discipline is quite small.)  Many go on to management roles, but few are committed to innovation.  I have asked whether there are OR people who could be classed as entrepreneurs.  And generally, the answer is that entrepreneurs have a different outlook on business from that taken by someone with an OR philosophy.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that OR is at the opposite end of some management spectrum from entrepreneurs and innovative managers.


  1. Interesting blog post. BTW : I posted it on twitter and it was retweeted several times.


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