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MBA Essentials
JAN 24, 2018

Getting Good with Numbers: Numerical Aptitude Is Indispensable for Business

By Kenichi Suzuki, Translated by Karl O’Callaghan
iStock photo/erhui1979

Whether a little or a lot, we all use numbers in our jobs. Even business school students and participants at seminars with numerical themes often say that they like numbers, but don’t find them easy. The goal, of course, is to get to a place where numbers stop being a chore, and instead become an easy, lovable companion to our lives.

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Business schools love to organize things into 2×2 matrices like the one above. The ideal situation—liking numbers and finding them easy as 1, 2, 3—is known as numerical aptitude.

When you imagine someone who is “good with numbers,” what do you picture? Perhaps somebody using a complex Excel spreadsheet to create a report for their boss or business partner. They may be furiously building charts or graphs, or perhaps they’re adding row after row to a table with seemingly endless decimals and percentages.

And doing it all effortlessly.

That’s not entirely wrong, though the intimidation of such an image is often unnecessary. Numerical aptitude is really just the ability 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 the interpretation side of things because it is often what we are expected to do at school or work. The translation of graphs to tell a story is frequently an unexpected blind spot.

Here’s the good news: if you hone your numerical translation skills, the time you need to prepare documents will be dramatically shortened. This is because having a clear output image in mind makes it possible to work backwards. You’ll already have your storyline, so you can identify what information is necessary for your analysis and avoid wasting time on gathering irrelevant data or doing unnecessary research.

So what do we need to achieve numerical aptitude?

The answer is threefold: supportive software (Excel), the right tools and methods, and perspective.