Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quants make good scapegoats

Inspired by this post by Eric Falkenstein, here's some advice to managers:

You need a quant. If there's any risk you'll make a mistake, and if your boss, board, or stockholders are dumb enough to accept a pass-the-bucket excuse, you need a quant!

Quants make good scapegoats. Nobody likes smart people, nobody understands their elaborate models, and everybody wants to beat up the kids whose success is based on being smart and knowing difficult technical stuff.

You may be thinking finance is the only field blessed with such great flak-catcher posts as "Chief Economist" and "Head of Analytics," but if you're in marketing or strategy, quants are now available to you as the whipping boys for the ignorant to feed upon.

Forgot that marketing is about creating and delivering value to customers, first and foremost? (Oh, you were texting during that MBA class?) No problem, for only a zillion of your stockholders' dollars you can buy a CRM system that will support your multiple decisions to force churn the bottom 10% of customers -- until there's no one left. Then you don't need to bother with the pesky customers and can blame SAP/SAS/Accenture/Whomever. Never mind that these CRM purveyors tried hard to explain what you were doing wrong; they'll take the blame because they can't succeed by attacking their clients. At least they understand this.

No time for strategic thought? Why bother with complicated things like understanding the sources of differential advantage or identifying potential threats? You can get always a quadruple-PhD's macro-economic model to take the blame when you miss out subtle indicators, such as your competitor buying your only distribution channel. Odds are that your golfing buddies... I mean your board will side with you over the kid who can't tell a mashie from a niblick.

Don't like your quants' recommendations? Ignore them. Got in trouble? Point the finger at the nearest quant. Odds are that when quants start explaining nobody will listen, anyway. Nobody ever wants to listen to knowledgeable smart people. And the quants will be on the defensive, with only the truth on their side... and truth is so overrated in these post-modern times.

Get a quant! They're cheap insurance against your incompetence.

Because not everyone may notice this is sarcasm, my position on the above is summarized by the chyron with which I finish all my modeling classes:

Unlike the managers who blindly trust them, computer models cannot be fired.