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Gene Woolsey and Consulting in Operations Research

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!

{ 8 } Comments

  1. Robert Hernreich | March 7, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the unpaid aspect of the business. Sometimes just because you are a great consultant does not mean you are always a great sales person.

    The consultant may blurt out the solution because they love figuring out solutions. The salesman would say something like, “We have a definite solution for you. Let’s set up a time to go over both of our ideas”.

  2. Ryan Fredds | March 8, 2008 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    I learned a tremendous amount of information about business management from classes in college. However the real education took place in the trenches of the first few businesses that i worked to manage. It takes both but real world experience gives real education.

  3. Erdem Ince, PhD | March 24, 2008 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Gene Woolsey is one of the best Applied OR guru. He is the best faculty I could ever have. I learned tons of things realated to not just OR but also life. He lived with his students in the same office and we learned from him while he was in the our “The Guild” office. I am a proud member of The Guild and will be forever.

  4. Ben | April 5, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I agree fully with Ryan Fredds… I also learned alot in classes in college, howeve I also learned the most valuable information and life experiences out on the field with a hands on approach.

  5. Mary Skyers | April 28, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I doubt anything of consulting value is free.

  6. Patricia Lacey | April 28, 2008 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    HE GREAT CONSULTANT Great consultants rarely accept limitations. Great consultants are able to step into ambiguous, sometimes hostile situations and sense what changes need to be made. Great consultants are driven by ideas and a strong desire to have a positive impact on clients.

  7. Paul Brown | April 28, 2008 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    What makes a consultant unique is the ability to apply previously acquired knowledge to a new situation and to determine which of the many methods used beforehand is the best suited for the problem at hand. It is the difference between working by conditioned reflex and actually thinking about what you are doing and determining the most efficient means of achieving the objective.

  8. John Bushelle | April 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    A great consultant has to be a great thinker with a passion for ideas. You need to be the type that does well in school and likes it. You need to enjoy problem-diagnosis, problem-framing and problem-solving.

{ 3 } Trackbacks

  1. FM Waves | March 6, 2008 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Recurrent Ideas about “Open Source Consulting” ; )

    You’re right, that’s just Francisco having a laugh again and again! You’ll be with me if I tell you that almost everybody relates "open source" to "free as in free beer" (in Spanish there’s no need for disamb…

  2. […] 101” στο Data Administration Newsletter. Το draft αράχνιασε, αλλά δύο πρόσφατα posts με έκαναν να το […]

  3. […] δουλειά (the devil is in the details). Έτσι όταν έπεσα πάνω σε αυτό το post κατάλαβα πως ο Gene Woolsey πρέπει να είναι διαφορετικός. […]

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