When I was younger (yes, so much younger than today) I always loved mathematics. Those little rules were great tools to solve all possible problems, or at least, all the problems you got in class.

Moving on to the university, I got to know Mr. Heisenberg and his theoretical physicist colleagues. It turned out that while I had been doing well with my mathematical formulas, from that moment on I could only reach good approximations. The hard “1 + 1 = 2” truth from before became a bit less obvious than before.

Now, since more than 20 years, I have been roaming around in “the real life”, where I don’t only work with mathematics and physics, but mostly with people. And what have I learned over time? Well, that even approximations don’t come close in “modeling” what people will do or how they will react in certain situations.

It depends a little bit how you look at it. Either you consider the human behavior too complex to model, or you consider that even if a mathematical model would exist, it would have so many input lines that we would always lack enough information about these inputs to correctly calculate (read: predict) the exact output.

Does that mean that all is lost for mathematicians or engineers alike that need to work with “unpredictable” people? Not at all. It is true that strict rules and predictable models are not the holy grail to get the work done. But simple flow charts and “if-then-else” logic is universal and can be understood by nearly everybody. And while it might still need a lot of empathy and soft skills to align people on certain processes, the basic “mathematical” logic should help to document the baseline reference that will finally be the same for all.

In my view, like with most things in life, you always need to find a good balance. Just understand what you are naturally good at (the “soft” or the “hard” skills) and then focus on developing the other side. That’s the only way to always find the best solutions to the problems you will face.

Unless of course you think X always equals 42. 😉