An expensive way to be insulted ...

An expensive way to be insulted ... by someone half your age.

Years ago, some cynic gave that sentence as a definition of Operational Research.  It reflected the youth of many O.R. consultants, compared with the maturity of the managers for whom they did projects.  In addition, it hinted at the cost of consultancy and the cynical belief that consultants tell the client what the client already knows.

I brought this cynical definition into a recent discussion about a topic which is often raised by our profession.  Why is it, that given the benefits that O.R. can bring, the discipline is so little known.  And that leads on to questions about how to publicise the benefits of O.R..  How do you let people in industry/commerce know that there are people with the specialisms and expertise that will benefit their decision-making?

It is generally acknowledged that there are many people who are aware of specific techniques of O.R., such as linear programming, and may even use that techniques, but do not realise that one technique is not the sum total of skills that O.R. can bring.  This has been shown by several surveys of managers and decision-makers.  So how do you move from a little knowledge (which may be a dangerous thing) to being willing to use the breadth of expertise that an O.R. professional can bring?

In the discussion that ensued, we talked about ways of publicising O.R. - but they seemed to be "more of the same";  magazine articles and press releases simply add to information (over)load for busy people.  Successful projects are useful adverts.  One client may talk about the way that they have been helped, but a second client may believe that O.R. was good for one type of problem only. 

There's another problem in large organisations, where there is a culture of management services.  The O.R. professional may be seen as a threat to the decision-maker.  This is because the way that O.R. analyses problems requires extensive knowledge of the situation faced by the decision-maker.  When the O.R. person is investigating, the client may feel threatened because of the extent of data/information acquired.  As a result of the O.R. work, the O.R. person will know about the way that the client does his/her day-to-day work - and this may be threatening, since the consultant can do this part of the client's work!  This situation is not so threatening for studies by other types of management services workers, whose data collection is restricted to specific areas of work.

So, we are left with the perennial problem.  However, let's be positive.  O.R. - the science of better - can help many decision-makers.  O.R. workers are not all young, and whatever their age, they will bring an incredible breadth of experience of solving management decisions.  Their work won't be very expensive compared with the potential cost of a poor decision.  And O.R. workers seldom insult their clients!


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