The model as a spell and the solver as a wand: O.R. magic for a muggles’ world

Who cares about O.R. magic?

When I said once to my sister that my former job was to put more fridges on each truck to save delivery trips (something that many of my colleagues consider a joyful job), she couldn´t be less interested. Maybe I should have tried to use magic metaphors to describe models as spells, solvers as wands and programming contests as Quidditch games for students. Despite those interested in profits and costs, operations research practice sounds really boring to the general audience.

Who believes in O.R. magic?

We are embedded in optimization problems that are usually overlooked. As a result, tackling one of them might look like plain witchcraft to an outsider: how come that costs were reduced by 5% or profit raised by 20% just like that? Of course that such witchcraft may need to compete with quack consultants selling a sole system supposedly capable of solving whatever problem the client has. Apart from a parcel of executives and engineers, O.R. seems to be hovering between unfamiliarity and suspicion to many, what means a lot of opportunities lost.

How to bring them in or back to OuR magic?

Paul Rubin had many insights about that: he presented a very sound analysis about “hitting muggles” on his blog to target high-level executives, business students and small organizations. Indeed, I’ve been on training classes at Petrobras along with many young economists that have been just hired and most know little but are very interested about operations research. I hope they enjoy the O.R. lectures to be held.

Nevertheless, I would like to praise for a holistic education about O.R. for engineers and IT professionals. Being so diversified, O.R. involves fields as diverse that practitioners of some are not fully aware about the existence of others that would suit their needs. Moreover, complex software systems are very likely to require O.R. at some point but system analysts and system architects might not be aware about that. In both cases, an interesting application – if not ignored – might be approached with the wrong spell or wand! Despite how much I believe in magic, I know that I’m a muggle sometimes.

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