GMAT Tip of the Week: Kanye, Wiz Khalifa, Twitter Beef…and GMAT Variables

GMAT Tip of the WeekThis week, the internet exploded with a massive Twitter feud between rappers Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa, with help from their significant others and exes. For days now, hashtags unpublishable for an education blog have topped the trending lists, all as a result of the epic social media confrontation. And all of THAT originated from a classic GMAT mistake from the Louis Vuitton Don – a man who so loves his hometown Kellogg School of Management that he essentially named his daughter Northwestern – himself:

Kanye didn’t consider all the possibilities when he saw variables.
A brief history of the beef: there was musical origin, as Wiz wanted a bit of credit for his young/wild/free friends for the term “Wave,” as Kanye changed his upcoming album title from Swish to Waves. But where things escalated quickly all stemmed from Wiz’s use of variables in the following tweet:

Hit this kk and become yourself.

Kanye, whose wife bears those exact initials, K.K., immediately interpreted those variables as a reference to Kim and lost his mind. But Wiz had intended those variables kk to mean something entirely different, a reference to his favorite drug of choice. And then…well let’s just say that things got out of hand.

So back to the GMAT: Kanye’s main mistake was that he didn’t consider alternate possibilities for the variables he saw in the tweet, and quickly built in some incorrect assumptions that led to disastrous results. Do not let this happen to you on the GMAT! Here’s how it could happen:

1) Forgetting about not-obvious numbers.
If a problem, for example, defines k as 10 < k < 12, you can’t just think “k = 11” because you don’t know that k has to be an integer. 11.9 or 10.1 are also possibilities. Similarly if k^2 = 121, you have to consider that k could be -11 as well as it could be 11.

Ultimately, that was Yeezy’s mistake: he saw KK and with tunnel vision saw the most obvious possibility. But why couldn’t “KK” have been Krispy Kreme or Kyle Korver or Kato Kaelin? Before you leap to conclusions on a GMAT variable, see if there’s anything else it could be.

2) Assuming that each variable must represent a different number.
This one is a bit more nuanced. Suppose you were asked:

For positive integers a and b, is the product ab > 1?

(1) a = 1

With that statement, you might start thinking, “Well if a is 1, b has to be something else…” but all the variable b really means is “a number we don’t know.” Just because a problem assigns two different variables does not mean that they represent two different numbers! B could also be 1…we just don’t know yet.

Where this manifests itself as a problem most often is on function problems. When people see the setup, for example:

The function f is defined for all values x as f(x) = x^2 – x – 1

They’ll often be confused when that’s paired with a question like, “Is f(a) > 1?” and a statement like:

(1) -2 < a < 2

“I know about f(x) but I don’t know anything about f(a),” they might say, but the way these variables work, f(x) means “the function of any number…we just don’t know which number” so when you then see f(a), a becomes that number you don’t know. You’ll do the same thing for a: f(a) = a^2 – a – 1. What goes in the parentheses is just “the number you perform the function on” – the function doesn’t just apply to the variable in the definition, but to any number, variable, or combination that is then put in the parentheses.

The real lesson here is this: variables on the GMAT are a lot like variables in Wiz Khalifa’s Twitter feed. You might think you know what they mean, but before you stake your reputation (or score) on your response to those variables, consider all the options. Hit this GMAT and become yourself.

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By Brian Galvin.

Bell’s Oberon – The Microbrew Microcosm of the New Economy?

The first week of April represents many things to many people – it’s April Fool’s Day, it’s the first week of the second fiscal quarter, it’s the two-week warning until tax day, etc. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, and an ever-expanding radius (which now spans from Kansas City to North Carolina) around it, it represents the release of Bell’s Brewery’s summertime microbrew, Bell’s Oberon, with release parties scheduled all week. How can future business leaders learn from this event?

A not-insigificant lesson to be learned from the current economic downswing is that many businesses were guilty of trying to be too many things to too many consumers. The swing in ideology turned from an era in which even restaurants and convenience stores broadcasted a rule of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” to mortgage companies and banks screaming “no credit, no downpayment, no problem!” In other words, in their haste to expand the market by any means necessary, lenders moved away from targeting qualified clients with profitable products, and took on massive amounts of risk to have something for everyone.

This ideology pervades throughout the business world today. Twitter seems to be all the rage nowadays (even we’re on Twitter now), promising marketers the opportunity to remain in constant contact with their target consumers. Is that constant contact a good thing, however? A marketing specialist recently described Twitter as a dating chat room for marketing professionals, in which marketers play the role of men, who outnumber thier targets by a large margin, often unknowingly. Companies send out messages, and a large percentage of recipients consists of competitors and/or employees. Even when the messages do reach consumers, do consumers need to be consistently updated on product offers or “news”?

Twitter precursor, Facebook, may also fall victim to its own expansion plans; for years, it was the virtual place to be for college students and recent graduates, a place to find out about their classmates, friends, and potential romantic interests. But once their parents join – a trend that rivals any other social fad of the beginning of 2009 – how long will young people hang around? When inside jokes and what-happens-here-stays-here photos are available to the masses, a large porton of Facebook’s allure evaporates. In trying to be a social network for the masses, Facebook may well be missing one of the key attributes of socialization – people tend to congregate around cliques and niches.

Niche brands and specialized products, in contrast, capitalize on a key element of capitalism – specialization allows firms to prosper by excelling at one particular thing. Which brings us back to Bell’s. By offering seasonal products with a regional distribution plan, Bell’s creates demand for its beers simply through scarcity. The inability to have it at all times inspires purchases at the times when it is available, and generates a buzz among loyal consumers. A native of Michigan now living in California, I both anxiously await and nervously dread the day when Bell’s is available on the West Coast. As I write this, I’d do just about anything for a pint of Oberon right now…but I know that if I had it on demand it would eventually lose some of its allure.

The post-recession economy will offer a great deal of opportunity for new and revised businesses, but the improvements in technology that will inevitably occur in that time will also create unprecedented opportunities for overexposure and overambition. While everything-to-everyone businesses like Google and Wal-Mart will undoubtedly spawn, entrepreneurs and managers would be wise to consider the case of Bell’s when plotting their strategy…either as a model for success, or a delicious break from the boardroom.