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Back of the Envelope Calculations

Whether one leans toward the qualitative or the quantitative, a critical skill for the entrepreneur, policy analyst, innovator, natural or social scientist, and citizen is to be able to "size things up," either in one's head or on the back of the proverbial envelope. It's one of the most basic skills of critical thinking — before we engage in complex and time consuming analyses, we need to have a ballpark idea of what the numbers are likely to be. In this module participants will learn the importance of along with the basics of how to do "back of the envelope calculations"

We know from studies of real world behavior that we are subject to bounded rationality — we rarely have all the information we'd like, the time or techniques to fully analyze the information we have, the luxury of complete rationality. But we this does not give us an excuse to put our heads in the sand or just to "wing it." Back of the envelope (BOTE) or Fermi calculations are a solution to this problem. They are not a natural talent, they are a learned skill.

Ultimately, this topic is about making optimal use of the time and information available to produce the best possible guestimate.


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Semester Fall '15 (Edit Footer)