It started with a simple tweet, before the internet went berserk:
8 ÷ 2(2+2) = ?
Seems so simple, right?
Now, I taught junior high school math for three years, so when I saw this simple equation, I knew I could solve it quickly and I did just that. Before you see my answer, go ahead and solve it for yourself. I dare you!
OK, so what answer did you get?
I used PEMDAS to solve the problem, as follows:
8 ÷ 2(2+2) = 8 ÷ 2(4) = 4(4) = 16.
And if you got 16, you're with me, and about 39 percent of the internet, according to this Twitter poll that a whopping 340,000 people took after the math problem went viral on Twitter.
However, that means that a whopping 59 percent of those poll-takers, or about 200,000 people, thought the answer was 1. Were they all wrong? Was I wrong? Or is something else going on here?
As it turns out many people around the world are taught order of operations in math as children using BODMAS rather than PEMDAS. If you were taught math using BODMAS, you probably solved the equation as follows:
8 ÷ 2(2+2) = 8 ÷ 2(4) = 8 ÷ 8 = 1.
So, who is correct, and who is wrong?
The answer is not as simple as the question.
The real answer is, it depends how you were taught. That, and the question isn't written very well: It would be better to using the "/" sign instead of the "÷" sign, which is rarely used after elementary school. (And even better to use more parentheses to indicate the order you want.) So, a better version would be 8/(2(2+2)) = ? or (8/2)(2+2) = ?
I look for life and leadership lessons with every experience I go through. So, what are the lessons here, beyond the math itself, for entrepreneurs and leaders to take away? I thought of three to share:
1. It's important to clearly define the problem.
2. Sometimes, even when you think the answer to a problem is simple, it's really more complicated.
3. Sometimes, there's more than one answer to a problem!
Here's to our better defining problems we face, and always looking carefully for the answers!