Almost Timely News, 15 May 2022: Solution-Oriented, AI Regulation

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Almost Timely News, 15 May 2022: Solution-Oriented, AI Regulation

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What’s On My Mind: Solution-Oriented Mindset

If you trawl through LinkedIn profiles for a while, you’ll see a very common phrase on a lot of people’s descriptions. Solution-oriented. Solution-focused. Solution-driven.

What does that mean, anyway? Here’s my take: when presented with a problem, you start at the solution and reverse-engineer your way back. You figure out how to get to the solution by any legitimate means necessary.

Why do we value this skill? Because a lot of people aren’t solution-oriented. Let’s look at a few examples. Right now in my country, there’s a shortage of baby formula. It’s causing quite a bit of panic, and panic that’s largely unnecessary. Suppose you had a child, a newborn. You know the solution is to feed the child, but the normal path to the solution – formula – is unavailable.

What are a lot of people doing? Yelling at manufacturers, yelling at politicians, yelling at each other. None of those activities solves the problem, which is that you have a newborn that is hungry and your primary solution is offline.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and the following is not medical advice.

What does the solution-oriented mindset look like? You’d start by looking at the existing solution and then determining what the next closest solution is. If you were to Google for the ingredients of your standard baby formula, which is intended to replace human breast milk, you’d see a long list:

Skim milk, lactose, high oleic sunflower oil, soy oil, coconut oil, whey protein concentrate, potassium citrate, whey protein hydrolysate, calcium carbonate, soy lecithin, ascorbic acid, choline bitartrate, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, ferrous sulphate, taurine, L-tryptophan, m-inositol, cytidine 5′-monophosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, disodium guanosine 5′-monophosphate, disodium uridine 5′-monophosphate, zinc sulphate, adenosine 5′-monophosphate, d-α-tocopheryl acetate, mixed tocopherols, niacinamide, L-carnitine, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin A palmitate, cupric sulphate, thiamine hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, manganese sulphate, ß-carotene, folic acid, potassium iodide, phylloquinone, biotin, sodium selenate, vitamin D3, cyanocobalamin.

You’d also see that it contains 68 kcal of energy per 100 mL, 1.3g protein, 3.5g fat, and 7.6g of carbohydrates.

Your next logical step would be to look at human breast milk itself. Again, a quick Googling turns up:

Human milk consists of 87% water, 1% protein, 4% lipid, and 7% carbohydrate (including 1 to 2.4% oligosaccharides) Compared to cow’s milk, human milk contains less protein (3.5% in cow’s milk), and especially a proportion of casein (on total protein) lower, max 50% (80% in milk of cow). There is no β-lactoglobulin; some minor proteins are more abundant in human milk (lysozyme, lactoferrin,…) and the same goes for the non-protein nitrogen fraction (urea, free amino acids, including taurine). The protein content of human milk is therefore low (10 g/L), probably the lowest among all mammalian milks, and we can relate this observation with a very low growth rate of the newborn (for comparison, rat milk has a protein content 10 times higher for a growth rate of the pups also higher).

There’s our actual solution, what we’re trying to replicate. The next logical step? Googling for other kinds of milk to see how they compare to those target ratios. We already have cow’s milk ratios in the above research – per 100g, cow milk has 3.2g of protein, 3.9g fat, and 4.8g carbohydrates.

Goat milk, for example, is 87g of water per 100g, 3.56g protein, 4.14g fat, and 4.45g carbohydrate.

Sheep milk is 83g water, 5.4g protein, 7g fat, and 5.1g carbohydrate per 100g.

Of these – cows, goats, and sheep – cow milk chemically is closest to human milk. There are still differences, but it’s fairly close. Which means that if you have to choose between not having a solution (no formula) and finding a reasonably close, perfectly safe alternative (regular whole milk from cows), you’ve arrived at a solution that gets the job done. If I had to feed a newborn, based on available data, this is the logical choice until the supply chain issues are resolved.

This is the solution-oriented mindset. You know what you need to solve – so how do you solve it in the best way possible?

Let’s look at another example, one closer to home for many folks. In Google Analytics 3 / Universal Analytics, we had a feature, an option called Filters that allowed us to change and remove bad, junk data from entering our Google Analytics accounts. Many of us had filters set up to knock out particularly egregious spambots, etc.

In Google Analytics 4, that feature is gone. Poof. Doesn’t exist. So, a lot of folks complained to Google about it. Many more folks just complained out loud on social media, forums, etc. None of these approaches are solution-oriented though, right?

What does the solution-oriented marketing analytics professional do? You look at your available tools and see what you can do. The answer becomes clear when you start thinking backwards from the solution. Google set up filters in GA3 to keep bad data out of Google Analytics. In GA4, Google’s design intent is for configuration to be handled in Google Tag Manager.

Thus, the solution-oriented marketing professional instead designs trigger conditions in Google Tag Manager as an exception for your Google Analytics 4 Base Configuration Tag. You say, “I don’t want GA to even track visits with these characteristics” and you prevent Google Analytics tracking at all when those conditions are met. You have engineered a solution with the tools you have.

We’ve had other terms for solution-oriented folks – hackers (in the truest sense), MacGyvers, etc., but the personality trait remains constant. Folks who are truly solution-oriented are tinkerers, analysts, endlessly curious. When you go to a restaurant with them, they’re chewing slowly to deconstruct the flavors in their food, trying to figure out how it was made. When you listen to music with them, they’re separating out the different tracks, trying to see how many layers went into composing in a DAW. When you view art with them at a museum, they try to figure out how many layers an artist used to create a painting.

It’s human nature to complain, but it’s human genius to solve. How do you solve problems, and what lessons could you take from solution-oriented role models (fictional and real) to be even more capable, even more clever?

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Search Console course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I would recommend reading the piece on regulation of AI. AI, as wonderful a technology as it is, also has some inherent problems.

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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