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MBA Essentials
JAN 24, 2018

Getting good with numbers (1/4): Numerical aptitude is indispensable for business

By Kenichi Suzuki

GLOBIS Faculty Kenichi Suzuki shares some tips on how to utilize numbers for more effective communication in business.

How do you feel about numbers?

Using numbers can be frustrating. Whether a little or a lot, we all use them in our jobs. Business school students and participants in seminars with numerical themes often say that even if they like them, they don’t find them easy.

Do you like numbers? Do you find them easy to use and understand?

How we feel about numbers

Getting to numerical aptitude

It is common at business school to organize things into 2×2 matrices like the one above. Where would you put yourself in this matrix? My hope is that all the readers of this column will end up in the top right quadrant. The ideal situation—liking numbers and finding them easy as 1, 2, 3—is known as numerical aptitude.

I’d like to focus on moving people from hard to easy by sharing little tips for making numbers your friend. Then, if possible, I will turn hate into love them by showing what makes them so interesting.

So, what kind of person do you imagine when we say that somebody is good with numbers?

Perhaps you might picture somebody using PowerPoint or maybe Excel to create a report for their boss or business partner. The biggest thing on their mind is likely to be What kind of graphs or charts should I use to convey my thoughts persuasively? Or perhaps they already have certain graphs or tables at hand and are thinking What can I say about this?

In this case, numerical aptitude really means being able to translate what you want to say into a graph or chart, or being able to interpret your message from a given graph or table. 

Most people are more conscious of interpreting graphs and charts because it is often what we are expected to do at school or work. On the other hand, translating graphs to tell a story is an unexpected blind spot for many.

If you can hone your numerical translation skills, the time you need to prepare documents will be dramatically shortened. This is because if you have a clear output image in mind, it becomes possible to think and work backward. As you will have already constructed the storyline of your report, you can identify what information is necessary for your analysis, and avoid wasting time on gathering irrelevant data or doing unnecessary research.

The components of numerical aptitude

So, what do we need to become good with numbers? I believe there are three aspects. Familiarizing yourself with analysis methods, and working with Excel to make the most of those methods are important. But most important is analytical perspective and thinking, the foundation for dealing with numbers. We will look at this next time.

The price of love

I’d like to leave you with a conundrum before the next column. Think about the following question: What is the price of love?

What kind of data or graphs would you need to translate your ideas?

Translated by Karl O’Callaghan (GLOBIS Faculty; Founder and CEO,; GLOBIS Graduate).