The U.S. currently trails behind 34 other countries when it comes to high school math performance. Continuing to fall behind could hurt our economy and the marketing industry as a whole.
Standardized testing results indicate that high schoolers in America struggle with math compared to the rest of the world. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) uses objective testing to confirm aptitude in several subjects. While the U.S. performed decently well in areas like reading, they trailed behind 34 other countries in mathematics.
In fields that often rely on creativity like marketing, the importance of math often takes a backseat to ambitious campaign rollouts and other right-brain focused projects. The reality is that without a solid foundation in math, the most crucial component of marketing is thrown to the wayside.
For all of the talk about emotional branding, customer journeys, and “outside the box” thinking, marketing is essentially a field of trial and error. Most decisions are made based on past industry successes with the occasional hunch thrown in. Once an idea is formed, its results are tested and then the data must be analyzed.
This step, data analysis, is something that absolutely must be done with a set of keen human eyes. Our ability to produce robust metrics and informative dashboards through software alone must be driven alongside by human insights that can recognize patterns and predict how small adjustments will affect subsequent data. These are the most vital applications of math that the U.S. is missing out on.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
Most students in America wonder why they are even learning math, and so do some of their parents. After all, a calculator can now perform nearly 100 percent of the needed day-to-day functions. The reality is that learning concepts like basic arithmetic lets students “grasp the contours of numbers and look for patterns,” in the words of mathematician Tara Holm.
Annalect’s Head of Learning and Development Julie Veloz has seen this first hand. While, “math has always been important in my household, I didn’t appreciate its true power until I had to help my 8 year old son with it and then realized that math is teaching him how to think in precise steps and foster mental discipline that can be carried over to any career he may want to pursue. It also allows him the ability to see relationships and to sharpen his logic, critical thinking and problem solving skills. All skills he will use everyday in his future career.”
With math being so important, it’s unfortunate that most students are subjected to the rigors of memorization and repetition since most American curriculums leap straight off of basic arithmetic into tougher, more concept-heavy math like arithmetic on towards college-level calculus.
“We are pretty much the only country on the planet that teaches math this way,” writes Holm in a story for the Boston Globe. American students learn to approach math with a sense of inevitability or drudgery, and so they “miss the more organic experience of playing with mathematical puzzles, experimenting and searching for patterns, finding delight in their own discoveries.”
In the marketing world, these discoveries should be happening on a daily basis, but too often firms rely on going big with impressive campaigns that have high production value but little to offer in returns. What they should be doing instead is getting intimate with their data and working hand-in-hand with the computer models that they come to rely upon too heavily on their own. By being able to discover a solution not from pure “gut instinct”, but rather from intuiting a pattern in the numbers, finding success becomes less of a mystery and more of a process.