Gene Woolsey is one of my favorite people in OR, though I have met him just a couple of times. Gene has very strong views on how OR should be taught, and he implements them at the Colorado School of Mines. A key aspect of his approach is that OR is about doing and solving problems. And no problem can be solved without spending significant amounts of time with the people currently doing the job. So if you think you have a stocking problem at a grocery store, most of us OR people would ask for data, create models, solve them, and send back the results, without ever setting foot in a store. Gene (or, more likely now, his students) would spend days working with the stock people in the grocery store, and gain a hands-on understanding of the real situation. More often than not, this allows Gene to understand what the real problem is, and to avoid wasting time on unneeded analysis. I will confess I like this approach much more in the abstract than in practice. I worked for a while on US Postal System reorganization without spending much time at all in a postal sorting facility. That is not the way Gene would do it!
Gene writes a regular column in Interfaces, my favorite OR journal (make sure your organization or university subscribes if you are at all serious about OR) entitled “The Fifth Column”. In general, the column is about doing OR, particularly doing OR as a consultant. In the November, 2007 issue, he wrote on “How to Consult and Not Be Paid”. It is a great column that hits a bit close to home (most of my consulting seems to be of the unpaid nature). In short, Gene gets a call from a possible client. He comes up immediately with an insightful, clever, and very easy to implement solution. And then he blurts it out. The prospective client thanks him profusely, hangs up, and that is all there is. Learning not to blurt out solutions is a good lesson!