What’s so odd about odd numbers?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 29th, 2017.

holiday season. It’s the time of year when many people take time off to be with family and friends. Unless, that is, you are a high school senior and are busy finishing up your college applications for that January 1st deadline. I have one of those, a high school senior, and for the past few months I have watched her write countless essays on subjects ranging from the person she would most like to have dinner with, to what makes her special, to the toughest situation she has ever been in, and much, much more. What a joy it has been to read them. You think you know your child, but I have truly learned so much about her throughout this process.

This process also sheds light on the institutions asking the questions themselves. While many of the supplemental questions are similar, some schools really do stand out. Stand apart. Their questions are not the old standbys, but rather provide a glimpse into their culture. It has made me think about job interview questions, and about how a company can stand out, stand apart, by the nature of the questions they ask potential employees.

One of best set of questions came from The University of Chicago. Although my daughter did not apply there, my son did a few years back. The question was, “What is so odd about odd numbers?” His answer is below.


Twenty-Six and Ninety-Eight are playing beer pong, cheered on by a huge group, while a couple of the Twenties are off smoking on the porch. Everyone is having a great time except for Nine. Nine is sitting off in the corner. He never liked this type of party. He’s only here because Six and Twelve decided that he should come and dragged him along, not that they are paying attention to him anyway. Twelve is deep in conversation with her friends Eighty and Forty-Four, while Six is off hitting on some ‘-teen.’

Nine isn’t in his element. He likes to dance down the stairwell to Childish Gambino music on study breaks while most people are out having fun on their Saturday nights. Nine doesn’t go out of his way to hang out with friends every weekend, because he could be building a new cellblock in Prison Architect or playing piano.

Get some Odds together, and they will always act like a couple of Evens. Watching how Nine just lets it all go at a school dance with Seven when the DJ is plays some dubstep with a sick drop, it is easy to mistake him for Four. But at a party full of Evens, he still feels out of place.

Maybe the Odds are out of place; outsiders destined to look through a frosty window into the warm hearth of fitting in. These numbers are destined to be the odd man out. Are the Evens threatened because the Odds refuse to be normalized? Is thinking differently and challenging established concepts insanity? Nine doesn’t fit into traditional parties, because the status quo perceives him as more of a change agent than his Even counterparts. Evens, by their very nature, don’t like change. If you add/subtract/multiply/divide them, you get another Even. They find comfort in their consistency.

Nine prefers to be quiet. He is often deep in thought or only speaks to specific people, because he doesn’t care about his own image or public perception. What Nine really cares about is contemplating how the world works so he can change the order of operations for the better. As such, Nine would gladly trade repute for a worthy conversation.

Nine is additionally odd because he doesn’t identify with any particular political party. He refuses to change his values because a party plank tells him to do so. He is more interested in the subtraction of corruption, normalization of geek culture, modification of gun policy, and development of new technologies than he is of labels. Nine thinks differently and is open to the concept of zeroing in and destroying a current establishment in favor of creating a better time-invariant system. It is dangerous to be this radical, even if a large fraction (one half) of us are. It is dangerous to want to change the world. Odds like Nine are odd because they hold terrifying potential, and, if evenly distributed, Odds could have infinite power.

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