New York Times: Why There’s Strength in Small Numbers

September 16, 2007

Why There’s Strength in Small Numbers

The human psyche finds something supremely reassuring about numbers. Just ask my 9-year-old son. His favorite prime-time television series is CBS’s “Numb3rs,” spelled with a digit in place of the third-to-last letter. The show features an F.B.I. agent and his math-genius brother solving crimes with the aid of formulas like Bacon’s Cipher and the Knapsack Algorithm.

“There’s no way the bad guys can win,” my son assures me each time we watch the show together. “They can’t do the math, Dad.”

Mark J. Penn and his co-author, E. Kinney Zalesne, profess a similarly deep-seated faith in the power of numbers in their new book, “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes” (Twelve, 448 pages, $25.99). Mr. Penn, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, is a longtime pollster who is chief political adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton. He won fame for identifying “soccer moms” as a crucial constituency in President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.