A Mindful Approach

A Mindful Approach

Dr. Philip Maymin balances on a jungle-gym in the yard of his Greenwich, Conn. home

Dr. Philip Maymin balances on a jungle-gym in the yard of his Greenwich, Conn. home

Dolan’s Philip Maymin, PhD, uses ‘behavioral analytics’ to broaden students’ minds and prepare them for the world beyond data.

Soft skills, like curiosity, outside-the-box thinking, and imagination are much more desired in analytics and business these days. In turn, this makes our graduates more desirable.

— Phil Maymin, PhD, Professor of Analytics

When we think of business analytics, what likely comes to mind is the study of statistics, data collection, data cleansing, data storage, numbers — static concepts. Which doesn’t leave much room for creativity, missing the human component. That is precisely why Philip Maymin, PhD, professor of analytics in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, has started utilizing a new teaching approach that is unique to Dolan’s Business Analytics program: mindfulness.

Based on his work as an external researcher and co-author of papers with Ellen J. Langer, PhD, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, Dr. Maymin has taken what he learned about the practice of mindfulness and incorporated it into his analytics lesson plans.

Dr. Langer started to apply mindfulness to measurable observations almost 50 years ago, defining mindfulness as the “active process of noticing new things.” Other definitions often focus on meditation or breathing exercises. Over time, meditation can lead to a mindful post-meditative state, but mindfulness can also be achieved instantly, just by noticing something new in a familiar environment; it’s all about thinking in novel ways.

“To use mindfulness in day-to-day life, one simply has to stop, look around, and notice three new things,” said Dr. Maymin. “Try it: three things you never noticed before. What happens? We come to appreciate that we don’t necessarily know everything — our surroundings start to look different — and that is mindfulness.”

By integrating mindfulness into the classroom curriculum, Dr. Maymin has transformed the study of business analytics. He argues that analytics is, and can be, much more than just statistics or data-driven decision-making when one uses mindfulness to think beyond the scope of the norm.

Dr. Maymin saw the practical benefits of mindfulness when he consulted for Essentia Analytics, a behavioral analytics and performance consulting firm for investors. There, he observed a process involving “nudges” to help portfolio managers become more mindful about their trading decisions.

Nudges are essentially automated notifications, tailored to the portfolio manager’s process — in other words, a prompt to think before, or after, taking action. According to Dr. Maymin, portfolio managers who engaged in such nudges added more than 150 basis points (1.50%) of outperformance to their funds, on average.

“This is a remarkably large number,” he said. “Adding five or 10 basis points per year is considered an outstanding accomplishment and can separate great performers from mediocre ones…all because they took a moment to be mindful.”

Dr. Maymin’s ultimate goal for using mindfulness is to broaden students’ thought processes, allowing them to evolve into more than mere data-computing “robots.” He belongs to a business analytics roundtable with global academic representatives, and as far as he can tell, his approach to mindfulness in the study of analytics is unique to Fairfield.

Based on feedback from the business world, Dr. Maymin recognizes a need for growth beyond the typical data-driven statistics students. Managers are looking for more than just the required analytics skills, he said. They are searching for creativity and uniqueness.

“In terms of getting a job, I’m really not hearing about technical skills from these people who are looking for young business minds to recruit,” said Dr. Maymin. “Soft skills, like curiosity, outside-the-box thinking, and imagination are much more desired in analytics and business these days. In turn, this makes our graduates more desirable.”

One of the main components of being mindful is the ability to appreciate multiple perspectives. Dr. Maymin and Dr. Langer created a game based on Dr. Langer’s research that they call “Mindle” — a take on the popular webbased game Wordle — which he plays with students in his classes. In Mindle, the student is given a seemingly negative character trait about a person, such as “rigid,” and they need to guess what that also says about the person. In other words, “a person who is rigid is also ‘what’?” As the player guesses, they get Wordle-style feedback of green and yellow letters, as well as a percentage indicating how close they are to what the game dictates as the correct answer. For example, someone who is “rigid” could also be considered “consistent.” Someone who is “impulsive” could also be “spontaneous,” and so on. The lesson? What might appear to initially be a negative quality, is in fact a positive quality when thought of in another context.

Applied outside the classroom, “when a company is hiring or evaluating an employee, a mindless employer will only view a static list of positives and negatives,” said Dr. Maymin. “But each negative is a positive in a different context. This is most familiar in sports. A player can ride the bench and appear mediocre on a team, but when the coach puts them in a better position, they can suddenly be dominant in that role. That would be an example of using mindfulness when evaluating player performance.”

Dr. Maymin earned his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago, and his master’s degree in applied math and bachelor’s degree in computer science from Harvard University. He also practiced law prior to joining Fairfield Dolan in 2019, where he quickly became a cornerstone in the University’s Business Analytics program.

As the founding managing editor of Algorithmic Finance, the co-founder and coeditor-in-chief of the Journal of Sports Analytics, and the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sports Betting, Dr. Maymin has made a name for himself in the sports betting world – having recently been asked to host a seminar at Bet Bash 2 in Las Vegas. He is the CTO for a sports betting app, Swipe.bet, and has been an “insight partner” consultant with the aforementioned Essentia Analytics; an advisor to Athletes Unlimited, an affiliate of the Langer Mindfulness Institute; and an analytics consultant with several NBA teams.

“Through mindfulness you come to appreciate that you don’t necessarily know everything,” said Dr. Maymin. “You learn to appreciate multiple perspectives simultaneously, and also to appreciate, rather than fear, uncertainty. 

To learn more about Fairfield University's online master's in business analytics program, visit fairfield.edu/msba

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