The Steps to Functional Thinking

We call our problem-solving process, functional thinking. When you apply functional thinking to digital age problem solving, you will find that a few fundamental models enable you to creatively solve quantitative problems. Think of functions as LEGOs, building blocks.


Organize data by first building a parameter table to make the spreadsheet dynamic and easy to change. Inputs start with x₀ values and increments with Δx values (or in this case t₀ and Δt). Parameter tables make models and coding flexible, easy to change, and make spreadsheets transparent to others.


Build the model starting with an input discrete variable (x). Link its start value to x₀ and use iteration to add the incremental value Δx to each cell in turn by copying the rule from either a column or row to create a numberline. Add an output column by using a rule to transform inputs to unique outputs.


Continue to build the model with a table for each output and then a table that combines the individual outputs. For example, add columns based on new rules, use outputs as new inputs for recursion, combine simple functions in new and creative ways.


Test and iterate your model to improve it and solve the problem. At this step you may want to add graphs, conditional formatting, or other data representations to design the output to do more than solve the problem, to communicate your results to others.


With the model in hand in a well-structured spreadsheet, you are ready to be a creative problem solver by asking the most powerful business and STEM question, “What if…” What if you change an assumption, restructure the model, or input different data?