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Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving [Hardcover]

Jonathan G. Koomey PhD , John P. Holdren
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 28 2008
Full of tools, tricks, and tips for solving problems in the real world, this book serves as an ideal training manual for those who are new to or intimidated by quantitative analysis and acts as an excellent refresher for those who have more experience but want to improve the quality of their data, the clarity of their graphics, and the cogency of their arguments. In addition to containing numerous updates to the contents—references, URLs, and reading lists—this second edition includes a new foreword, revised chapters, and an epilogue. Mastering the art of problem solving takes more than proficiency with basic calculations; it requires understanding how people use information, recognizing the importance of ideology, learning the art of storytelling, and acknowledging the important distinction between facts and values. Intended for executives, professors, and students, this guide addresses these and other essential skills.

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"There is nothing else like this book out there. Nobody who deals with problems where numbers matter — and everybody in today’s world really needs to — should be without it."  —John P. Holdren, past president, American Association for the Advancement of Science, from the Foreword


"A lively, well-written, attractively packaged book on the art of critical thinking."  —Skeptical Inquirer


"Dr. Koomey's book deserves to be widely read and shared, especially by those who take seriously the fragile yet critical role of an informed citizenry in increasingly complex democratic societies."  —Professor Michael Maniates, Allegheny College

From the Author

This book grew out of my experience in training analysts whom I've hired in the past decade. It is written for beginning problem solvers in business, government, consulting, and research professions, and for students of business and public policy. It is also intended for supervisors of such analysts, professors, and entrepreneurs (who may not consider themselves analysts but who need to create analyses to justify their business plans to potential investors). Finally, it covers many topics that journalists who focus on scientific or business topics will find useful.

I’ve included cartoons and other amusing graphics, as well as quotes and examples galore. The chapters are short and to the point, with plenty of further reading in the back for readers who want to explore further. I hope that any person who takes an intelligent interest in the world will enjoy it and find it useful. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for the technically minded Jan. 17 2003
Format:Hardcover
This is an entertaining and well written book on some of the do's and don'ts of data analysis. To quote from Dr. Beers review below, "The main emphasis is on the art of data interpretation." Indeed there are useful tools here for performing sanity checks and for asking critical questions about all sorts of data collections. ... The examples are, at best, sketchy and few in number. The anectodes are amusing but not terribly informative. I would have much preferred more concrete examples and further discussion on some technical matters. ....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the most influential books I've read May 13 2002
Format:Hardcover
I was expecting a book about quantitative methods and advanced problem solving techniques. What I got, instead, was a book that didn't even discuss numbers until page 111 of a 221 page book, and it was lite on problem solving techniques. Although it was not what I expected it turned out to be one of those rare books that deeply influences and provides fresh perspectives. The book led me on a journey that broke the process of critical thinking into manageable steps. Among the things I learned were:
* Examine key factors, such as information, attention and action within the context of a cycle of actions that begins with goals, and moves through execution, how events in the external world influence the meeting of those goals, an evaluation and refinement of goals. Then the process starts anew.
* Structured methods for getting organized. The techniques given are simple, yet powerful.How to collect and critically analyze data and information, common fallacies and how to spot them. Two of my favorite parts that reinforce these are then single-page chart titled "What Scientists Say, and What They Mean", and Chapter 20 (Uncertainty Principle and the Mass Media).
* The straightforward process of numerical analysis, using relatively simple math techniques to make sense of numbers and turn them into knowledge, is priceless. What makes this part of the book valuable is that the author integrates the preceding chapters that lead you to a critical thinking mindset with common sense and techniques that are within the grasp of high school students. It looks easy, but is testimony to the author's exceptional ability to communicate and inspire.
Overall this book is one of my personal favorites and one that I recommend to colleagues. Another book that complements this one nicely is Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity by Jamshid Gharajedaghi.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Second Book on Research for Every Researcher Feb. 16 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Every researcher's first reference book is a comprehensive treatment of the methods, designs and analysis strategies needed for their discipline. This book is a complement rather than a substitute for such a basic research reference. It covers the tactics, organizational strategies--even attitudes--that are needed on a practical level to get research done.

I suggest using this book to do a quick "needs analysis" of your research style. Turn to the Preface and read through the annotated table of contents to identify the research tactic you most need to improve. (Mine was "Establish a Filing System.") You can assimilate the corresponding chapter in a few minutes and begin improving your skills.

With 38 different chapters covering topics that range from overcoming "Beginner's Mind" to "Use the Internet" there is something for every researcher. I can envision an undergraduate research methods professor leading beginning researchers through a needs assessment discussion and assigning them to both remediate their top weakness and sharpen their top strength--knowing all the time that many will be enticed into reading most of the other chapters, too. (I can also imagine a surly senior professor hurling it at his new research assistant with "Don't bother me until you have read this!" I suppose that teaching strategy would work, too. But I won't recommend it.)

The chapters are well organized and easy to learn from. Resources include both recommended books for in-depth exploration of each topic and a large number of relevant web sites for fast-click discovery. The book's own web site is a great place to start.

A great resource to sharpen your research abilities and an enjoyable read, this book is worth its place on your bookshelf.
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5.0 out of 5 stars For Your Analytic Mind April 6 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thought this book would be about quantitative approaches to solving problems. However, the author brilliantly weaved in a lot of common sense and practical advice on how to approach your professional and/or vocational endeavors. The chapter titles alone tells the story;

1. Don't be intimidated by anyone
2. Be a critical thinker
3. Don't confuse what's countable with what really counts
4. Get Organized
5. Question Authority
6. Dig into the numbers
7. Focus on the essential
8. Document, document, document
9. Use the internet
10. Remember that others don't care as much about your work as you do
11. Synthesis follows Analysis

The book is a great tool for analysts and anyone of influence. Jonathan Koomey, truly walks you through the steps for mastering the art of problem solving.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
"Turning Numbers Into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving" should be required reading for anyone engaged in producing, reading, or analysing information. Based on the title one might assume that I mean numerical information, but that is not the case at all. The basic principles, such as how to sift through information and the importance of documentation of sources, are important parts of any information product. In fact, except for the sections on graphs, tables, normalizing data and a few others, the rest of the book (fully at least three quarters of it) is dedicated to determining what constitutes good information, good techniques, good analysis, good documentation, etc. This is a book on problem solving techniques and analysis of the information products of others.
Filled with useful tools and tips for problem solving under real-life situations it is one of the most useful books available. "Turning Numbers Into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving" is a masterful work in the area of critical analysis and a highly recommended read for anyone involved in creating or using information of any kind.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
This book is quite useful for those are not good at numbers (like me) as well as those are. I got this book for my Consulting Skills class and it is great both for reading and... Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2010 by D. Le
5.0 out of 5 stars TNIK: For scientists & non-scientists alike
I began to enjoy the book almost from the very beginning, the writing style is easy to follow, and its explanations are straight to the point. Read more
Published on June 17 2002 by IcePatrol
5.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Statistical Analysis
In his role as leader of the End-Use Forecasting Group in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Jonathan Koomey is professionally... Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2001 by Paul Preuss
5.0 out of 5 stars Tools, tricks, & tips for solving problems in the real world
Jonathan Koomey is a Staff Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a position he has held since 1984. Read more
Published on Sept. 12 2001 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning Numbers Into Knowledge - A Great Guide for Analysts
Turning Numbers Into Knowledge offers wise and witty advice on organizing your time/space and deciphering data in a world of information overload. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2001 by Kayla V Roach
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clear and Concise Guide for Critical Thinkers
Dr. Koomey presents an excellent, concise, comprehensive, and extremely well written compilation of guidelines, common sense, and "rules of behavior" for analysts and anyone... Read more
Published on July 26 2001 by Richard L. Brehm
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning Numbers Into Knowledge
A great book! Koomey uses quantitative data analysis only as a starting point; no in-depth knowledge of statistics is required to enjoy this book and learn from it. Read more
Published on July 16 2001 by Dr. J. Richard Beer
5.0 out of 5 stars Turning Numbers into Smiles
I read this book from beginning to end, chapter to chapter in three days. The writing is easy going and as if the author was speaking directly to me. Read more
Published on June 22 2001 by Kysa Alport
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