What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

The Mathematics of Happiness?

March 27, 2012, 12:00 AM
Emotional

What’s the Big Idea? 

An iPad can calculate faster than the human brain, but in the areas of creativity and abstract thought, even massive supercomputers lag far behind the average human three year old. Still, the size of our computer databases and their processing power is increasing so rapidly that data and algorithms for interpreting it are becoming formidable sources of political and economic power. In education, finance, and government, it seems, he who has the most inscrutable machines and impressive statistics sets the agenda. 

The trouble with this is that the qualitative data about our lives – the quality of our relationships, the happiness of our children, our level of satisfaction at work – is often left out of the equation (and therefore the agenda) because it’s much more difficult to measure.

Chip Conley, Founder of Joie De Vivre Hospitality and the author of Emotional Equations, argues (against Einstein, as it happens), that everything that counts can and ought to be counted. A hotelier by trade, he says that GDP and the bottom line are blunt instruments for measuring the health of a society or a business. After the dot.com crash of 2001, and a visit to the Buddhist nation of Bhutan, which has a “Gross National Happiness” index, Conley and his team decided to create indices for measuring the well-being of their employees and customers. 

These initiatives, he says, led to significant increases in customer loyalty to Joie de Vivre hotels and a turnover rate well below the industry standard, not to mention bottom-line success at a terrible time for the hospitality industry. 

In Emotional Equations, Conley takes the mathematics of human happiness a step further, creating simple formulas like anxiety = uncertainty x powerlessness, which, when used systematically, he says, can give individuals and organizations a concrete method for addressing the human needs that drive them. 

 

 

What’s the Significance? 

Whether or not you’re convinced by the idea of emotional mathematics, Conley is making two important points here. First that in a global economy that is 64% service-driven, businesses can’t afford to ignore the needs of the human beings that work for them. Sorry, McDonalds, but the “free meal if your cashier doesn’t smile” improves my day only if my server doesn’t smile and I get the free meal, and improves my server’s day, never. 

Second, that in our data-is-power world, any hope we might have of a reasonably humane future in which cooperation and decency are incentivized may depend on our ability to represent our higher human needs mathematically, and to build these representations into the increasingly arcane systems that drive education, politics, and the economy. 

 

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

 

 

The Mathematics of Happiness?

Newsletter: Share: