MSIM Sunday Reading is a weekly publication highlighting a current and relevant topic chosen by a professor of the Master of Science in International Management for their courses. The Franklin community gets an inside look at the coursework and specializations offered at MSIM and expert commentary on international issues affecting our world today. This week's MSIM Sunday Reading is in conversation with Charles Burke, Assistant Professor of Data Science at Franklin. His article addresses how counterintuitive thinking can lead to success.
Professor Charles Burke is an Assistant Professor of Data Science. He received his PhD in Transportation Geography from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. For his dissertation, Charles used Open Data to simulate and analyze the City of Toronto’s traffic network, with the goal of creating safer and more efficient road cycling for urban cyclists. He turned that research into a brief tenure as Founder and CEO of the bike share company - Start the Cycle in 2014. His work has been published in journals such as Transportation, The Professional Geographer, and Transport Policy, as well as publications that focus on business and innovation, and Canadian Geographic magazine. His research and teaching interests include Quantitative Methods and Data Visualization, as well as Quantitative Geography and Spatial Analysis, with a particular focus on sustainable transportation, demographic change, and human-computer interactions.
In a world driven by conventional wisdom, it's often the unexpected, the counterintuitive, that propels us into uncharted territories of discovery and innovation. Imagine a scenario where the universally accepted truth is that all swans are white. However, the discovery of a single black swan shatters this established truth, nudging us to re-evaluate preconceived notions and explore beyond the known.
Business Brilliance Through Counterintuitives
In the commercial sphere, counterintuitives are not just anomalies; they are the seeds of groundbreaking ventures. The whimsical premise of Ghostbusters, which centers on the existence and capturability of ghosts, metaphorically underscores the potential of negative information in birthing distinctive business models.
Peter Thiel, in his enlightening article, "Competition is for Losers," elaborates on the essence of “differentiation.” He posits that in a world embroiled in competition based on conventional parameters like efficiency or marketing, the true victors are those whose uniqueness is self-evident. They venture into untrodden, often counterintuitive domains, akin to the innovative spirit of the Ghostbusters, but in his example, the Ghostbusters are an early 2000s Google (Thiel, 2014).
On an individual level, counterintuitives can carve unconventional paths to success. Malcolm Gladwell, in his thought-provoking talk at Google Zeitgeist, titled “Why you shouldn’t go to Harvard,” delves into the data-backed assertion that topping one's class at less prestigious institutions often yields better long-term outcomes compared to being lost in the competitive shuffle at elite institutions like Harvard (Gladwell, 2013).
Gladwell showed that the difference between absolute and relative rankings took effect at Harvard, where even brilliant individuals could be categorized as ‘average’ in a standardized capacity at an elite school. Extending Gladwell’s premise on individual choice, small schools with small classes may offer a more conducive environment for mastering effective interaction with AI, as individual brilliance can emerge from unstandardized excellence.
AI’s Quest for the Counterintuitive
As an Assistant Professor of Data Science at Franklin University Switzerland, I find that Artificial Intelligence (AI) accentuates the need for human intuition. While AI is a colossal repository of information, unearthing novel insights necessitates human biases: what we believe is true before we prompt AI. And if we are ultimately proven wrong by AI’s vast knowledge, it is the human intuition that crafts the follow-up “why” prompts, steering AI towards unveiling to us our own counterintuitives.
Even within this class of “why” questions, the human element is key. A query like, “Why should I go to Harvard?” might seem conventional and never even get asked, but Gladwell’s “Why shouldn’t I?” counterintuitive perspective directs us towards a less traversed yet potentially more insightful path. Similarly, many astute business minds missed the opportunity with Warby Parker by failing to ask, “Why shouldn’t I be able to buy eyeglasses online?”, a venture that deviated from the norm (Thiel & Masters, 2014).
Fostering Intuition: The Small School Advantage
The nurturing of human intuition, essential for unveiling counterintuitives, isn’t a scalable endeavor. It demands an environment where individual thinking is cherished over rote learning. This reality is where small educational institutions like Franklin University Switzerland stand out. Unlike larger schools adhering to standardized knowledge transfer and absolute rankings, small schools provide fertile ground for nurturing individuality. The hypothesis is simple yet profound—small schools, not larger ones, will be the cradles for nurturing the best AI users.
In this AI epoch, as we transition from standard knowledge transfer to an intuition-driven learning model, a new narrative may unfold. Small schools, with their focus on nurturing individual intuition, emerge as unexpected springboards for navigating AI realms, thereby propelling both business and personal growth.
This article is a reflection of the views of Franklin University Switzerland’s Assistant Professor of Data Science, Charles Burke, who believes in the power of agility and innovation in education.