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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
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
By Mike Tarrani TOP 500 REVIEWER
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 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for the technically minded Jan. 17 2003
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TNIK: For scientists & non-scientists alike June 17 2002
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.
Non-scientists & scientists alike will find useful:
1) the methods and ideas for analyzing and testing for plausibility the everyday information encountered in the media,
pointers to finding logical flaws in arguments, and common tricks used by presenters in order to be ambiguous or downright deceptive.
2) simple methods of keeping facts at your fingertips
3) the chapters on life improvement and work-efficiency which made this book pay for itself in a matter of days.
4) helpful links to the Internet and to other books.
Scientists and Engineers in particular will find useful
· The back-of-the-envelope numerical methods. Many sci/engs do not use them enough.
· The description of the scientific process, of which they are (often unconsciously) a part.
· Suggestions on efficient, non-sloppy data analysis. The examples on data analysis are somewhat geared to the field of Energy Analysis, but easy to understand and generalize; in the process I learnt something about that field.
· suggestions for clear, concise presentation of text and figures during presentation of results.
This is also a good book to lend to a student intern or new employee to teach them back of the envelope statistical methods, how to get organized, and good habits, both organizational and data-analysis wise.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Statistical Analysis Nov. 30 2001
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 concerned with using numbers from many different sources to gain knowledge about where markets for energy-efficient technologies may be headed. It's an approach called quantitative problem solving.
"Although the technical aspects of this process are taught at many universities, the art of problem solving is rarely discussed and even more rarely written down," Koomey notes in the preface. His goal is to amend that lack, helping the reader "to become a first-rate analyst in your chosen field."
"Your chosen field" covers a lot of ground, and while the book delivers on Koomey's promise, much of the pleasure of reading it comes from his eccentric definition of both his topic and his audience. Not a textbook -- or not just a textbook -- "Turning Numbers into Knowledge" is aimed at students and professors alike; at problem solvers in business, government, and research; at middle managers and potential investors; and even at journalists.
Beginning with a chapter titled "Beginner's Mind" and including others titled "Question Authority" and "Reflect," one might think Koomey's book could have been named "Zen and the Art of Statistical Analysis." But it's also full of technical advice, in chapters like "Let Tables and Graphs Do the Work," "Use the Internet," and many more.
In fact Koomey has organized his topics thoughtfully, beginning with considerations of why anyone, professional or amateur, would undertake quantitative analysis.
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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
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