EDITORIAL: Know Your Numbers: Lessons from movies

  (   Photo    by Geralt /    Public Domain   )

(Photo by Geralt / Public Domain)

Know Your Numbers - Lessons From Movies

If mathematics was not your favorite subject at school, you probably frequently asked the question “when will I ever need this in real life?”. You may have just asked yourself or your friends, or if you were brave enough you might have even asked your math teacher. If you did pluck up the courage, the answer would probably have been that the skills were transferable; or that some jobs like engineering required an understanding of complex mathematical concepts, such as how to calculate the area under a curve, simultaneous or quadratic equations, logarithms or even Calculus.

Sure, Trigonometry and Pythagoras’ Theorem aren’t particularly useful in most elements of our lives, but basic maths can prove very useful. Simple addition and subtraction, and even a little bit of understanding of probabilities can help you get far in life. If you run a business, you need to understand how to calculate a profit; if you’re redecorating your house, you need to be able to work out the area and perimeter of your room to calculate how much paint and carpet you need.

Movies have provided us with a number of great examples of when maths skills can help you become successful. Here are two of our favorites:


The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short is a comedic drama that tells the story of Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale), who operated an investment business called Scion Capital. By having a strong grasp of numbers, Burry was able to forecast 2008 financial crash by quantifying the huge bubble that had developed in the US housing market.

Based on this knowledge, and the fact that he had calculated a fairy precise date that the market would begin to crash, Burry invested $1.3 billion in financial products called “credit default swaps”, essentially betting that the housing market would crash.

Everyone laughed at Burry, but by being confident that he understood the numbers Burry was able to swim against the tide, securing huge profits (totaling $2.69 billion) for those that invested through his firm.


21 (2008)

The 2008 film 21 was based on a true story of MIT students that received training, and subsequently became experts in card counting. Using these skills they managed to win millions of dollars from casinos in Vegas. Of course, cheating is wrong, and things don't go exactly to plan for the students, but by using maths and probability they were able to increase the likelihood of their success.

Calculating probabilities is also a strategy that is be applied to poker, too, but fortunately this is above board. By calculating probabilities, players find that they are much more equipped to make better decisions about what to do with the hands that they get dealt.

In conclusion, movies provide some very strong, real life examples of occasions when simply understanding the numbers can deliver very beneficial results. Whilst the events that unfold in The Big Short and 21 are some of the more extreme cases, understanding numbers is applicable across many aspects of life, whether it be in business, running and managing your home, investing for your future, or just painting your kitchen.

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