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You're reading: Our world turned upside down

We’ve witnessed the Arab Spring, where entire cultures turned on a dime, rose up and overthrew regimes that had ruled for generations. Financial crises start with obscure acronyms and reverberate throughout our society. We appear to be in uncharted territory.

But is that really so or are we just becoming aware of realities that until now we’ve been blissfully ignoring? Before the digital age, we were able to sequester our organizations behind legal and organizational barriers, staving off the tides of evolutionary change. That’s becoming less and less tenable. Our challenge now is to face those forces head on.

On New Years Day, 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered the dwarf planet Ceres in the winter sky. It was only a fleeting glance and soon disappeared from sight. However, a young math whiz named Carl Friedrich Gauss was able to calculate where it would show up next. A short time later, Ceres reappeared in the sky exactly where the 24 year-old phenom predicted. This miracle was made possible by Gauss’s method of least squares, which fits messy data into a smooth pattern. At the heart of the method is the idea that errors in observation are random and therefore are normally distributed like this:

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