Enlightened Conflict

using numbers to make decisions

February 2nd, 2017

 

Numbers are good

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“We should always bear in mind that numbers represent a simplification of reality.”

 

 

—-

Kenneth E. Boulding

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So.

 

This is the partner piece to “Numbers are losing their Mojo.”

 

steal my mojo

 

It is the partner piece because while numbers are losing their mojo … more and more people in business want numbers to make their decision for them.

 

And while I could point to the overwhelming amount of data <numbers> now being cranked out as the reason why this issue is reaching a business crisis level … I will not.

The truth is that all big data does is amplify the situation – more and more business people suck at making decisions, suck at assuming personal responsibility for decisions and suck at thinking thru the true meaning of the numbers available to them <as a version of what I said yesterday — suck at seeing the real shadows of the numbers>.

 

And just as the fact we need to get our shit together with regard to telling the stories that numbers truly tell us <rather than do shit guided by ‘instinct’ an ‘what we feel’> we need to get our shit together with regard to how we use numbers to INFORM decisions and not MAKE decisions.

 

It gains importance because in today’s world it isn’t just ‘big data’ but it is analyzing research, spreadsheets, hell, just the everyday numbers that overwhelm you in the everyday standard operating procedures in business.go on tell me understand

 

We need to be teaching that not all 2’s are created equal <not all numbers are created equal> and that even though a number may be big, or even small, just counting it doesn’t mean it counts.

 

We need to be teaching young business people that what counts is what the numbers say … as in ‘what do they express’.

 

Here is the truth about numbers.

 

Numbers, more often than not, are simply directional signs toward truth … but rarely do they tell the truth in their simplicity. Okay. They rarely tell the whole truth.

And they never are a substitute for judgement.

 

I sometimes fear on occasion we are crafting a generation of business people who view numbers as the answer for everything.

 

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“I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”

 

David Ogilvy

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To be fair … this is not the younger generation’s problem … it is more a leadership & management issue.

 

marketing must improve betterWe absolutely have reached a point in business, in particular within organizations of any critical size, where risk is a swear word. And even if you take the risk you are putting your job on the line. With all that hanging over heads you do grab onto a lamp post whenever you can spot one.

 

And, let’s face it; numbers are strewn throughout whatever street you decide to walk upon so, if needed, one is always available to show to explain your decision.

 

It is up to older managers to teach the nuances and how to use numbers to inform the final judgements.

 

But it is quite possible we could live with this if this is all that was happening.

 

The other thing that should strike fear into the hearts of businesses is how older managers, overwhelmed with all the ‘big data’ available … and younger people  who easily rummage through all the data available … combine to, with mostly good intentions, seek numbers to find out what to do next.

 

They do not translate what the numbers mean but use actual numbers as directional signs on where to go next.

This is dangerous.

Now.

Someone will say “no, it is not dangerous, as long as you know the objective.”

 

”Wrong” is what I would say back.

 

For them to be right they have to assume that the best path toward the objective is the straightest line possible.

Well.

If I am a commodity product or service or maybe even the lowest price product or service <and, remember, there can only be one lowest price in any category> this could possibly be true, however, if “value” enters into any discussion with regard to what you are doing or what you are selling … the straightest path may not be what you want … or need.

 

To be clear. What I just typed … what I just shared … rarely is discussed in today’s business world. Why? Well … first … anything that suggests “not fast” or the dark days bad days sad black hole life“not optimal speed” suggests ‘less than efficient’ which in today’s world is “bad.”

 

<or “sad”>

 

Second … to discuss value in this way sounds … uhm … complex or complicated … and if there are two words that could be construed as swear words in today’s business world it would be those two. simplicity, at the expense of anything and everything else, is the go-to place for a shitload of business people and , in particular, business people who would like numbers to tell them what to do.

 

 

Anyway.

 

Yesterday I suggested number are losing their mojo.

 

Today I am suggesting business people may not be using numbers in the most do what you must by Yoshiterueffective way <to maximize the benefit of the organization, product or service>.

 

And tomorrow I will not be writing about numbers … but I can tell ya that numbers will still be misused and misdiscussed.

 

And we better figure that out soon or businesses are gonna get screwed.

 

how numbers have lost their mojo

February 1st, 2017

numbers 2 pencil truth facts learning

 

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“When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books.

You will be reading meanings.”

 

E. B. Du Bois

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“Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.”

 

—–

Rene Descartes

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“There are no facts anymore, everything is twisted by corporate greed.

Scientific research, social policy, economic forecasts … nothing can be held as factual.

 

————-

Some everyday schmuck commenting on an online article

 

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So.

 

2 plus 2 numbers truth factsOnce we got past 2 plus 2 equals 4 in school almost every single one of us started learning that all numbers contain shadows.

 

And that within that shadow resided their true meaning.

Let’s call that shadow ‘the value of the number.’

 

Yeah.

 

2 may be 2 but once you get into the real world your 2’s can become a ‘solid 2’ or maybe a “just 2” or even a “2 but really 2.2”.

 

Face it.

If you have been in the business world for any length of time you cannot remember the last time that 2 was simply 2 when presented in some meeting.

 

And then let me give you the more complex example of ‘the shadow.’

 

An expert can offer a number, a statistic or data driven conclusion, and it can be dismissed as ignoring the emotional feelings and angst of the people it i am too sad to walkrepresents <let’s call that the emotional investment & value within the number itself>. And within that dismissal the cold harsh truth becomes a non truth.

 

<sad.>

 

And here is where it gets even trickier … I can flip the discussion around and discuss emotional investment <pick your poison on this> and then find a number to validate it <flawed “if this then that” logic>. And within that reversed logic I am just as likely to create a ‘truth’ from some numbers that is in reality a ‘non truth’ as I am to create a what is in actuality a real gosh darn truth.

 

I decided to write about this because numbers are in a battle for their lives – in business and in society. And it would behoove us to insure that numbers actually won this battle.

 

Without numbers we will enter a world where someone can simply say “I believe what I believe” and “feelings mater more than facts” and that somehow becomes as valid as something that is actually provable.

 

Regardless.

 

Going back to the harsh truth of numbers in real Life … whether we like it or not numbers are rarely just numbers.

If you have any desire to use numbers and actually win any debate using the numbers you <a> have to believe they all have a shadow and <b> believe if you do not look into the shadows you will fail to understand what truth is.

 

I know.

I know.

Some of you may be scratching your head going “gosh, I don’t know if I buy this.”

 

Just think about the last business meeting you were in where someone number pops up on the screen at the front of the conference room and one of two things happen:questions make cry

 

<1> the presenter says “let me tell you what this numbers means”, or,

 

<2> someone sitting at the table says “tell us what that number represents <means>.

 

And, yes, up on the screen … most likely bolded and in some nifty color … is a nice simple clear number. Let’s say 122. Okay. Don’t like that? How about 7? It doesn’t matter. It is a solid number we all know and recognize.

 

And, yet, there are always questions.

 

It sucks but numbers aren’t just numbers and maybe worse … numbers do not speak simply nor do they tell their own story.

 

And because they cannot tell their own story it becomes up to <gulp> humans to tell their story for them.

 

Oh.

 

How I imagine how numbers cringe at how their stories are told.

 

Statisticians, who most likely know more about numbers stories than anyone else, are not natural story tellers and therefore they strip the narrative of anything likeable and bare the numbers for what they are and nothing more.

 

And, as I noted in the opening, this strips numbers of emotion <and emotion is what people are most likely to connect with>. this leaves their audiences sitting there … well … kind of crafting their own story in their own head.

 

Now.

Seeing these relatively important numbers, stripped of emotion, you will then see a slew of non statisticians scramble towards the microphone to cry out what is missing in the numbers presented.

fate

In an absurd twist of fate numbers far too often have stolen from them the one true strength that they have to offer us — the ability to discuss things as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated.

 

In theory, numbers should help settle arguments not create them.

 

In theory, numbers should help to offer clarity not create confusion <or doubt>.

 

In theory, numbers should provide stable reference points that everyone – no matter what your opinion – can agree on.

 

In practicality, in today’s world, numbers are in the midst of a trust battle.

That, my friends, is bizarre.

 

A number is a number.

 

2 + 2 = 4.

 

Numbers should be the starkest truth society can have – shadow or not.

sad numbers hear listen business

And, yet, study after study suggests that people believe that whomever is offering the number of the day is using it to actually hide something.

 

In fact, rather than eliminating doubt, numbers appear to actually be encouraging controversy and doubt

This is crazy if not truly bizarre.

 

Think about it for a second.

 

Numbers have become untrustworthy.

Numbers have become the voice of the arrogant and elite.

Numbers have become the trusted tool of the conspiracy theorist.

 

Has the world turned upside down?

 

Regardless.

 

Numbers are supposed to offer certainty not uncertainty. They are not meant to be defined by their shadow but rather by their body.

 

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The word statistics is defined as a discipline that includes procedures and techniques used to collect, process and analyze the numerical data to make inferences and to reach appropriate decision in situation of uncertainty (uncertainty refers to incompleteness, it does not imply ignorance). In this sense word statistic is used in the singular sense. It denotes the science of basing decision on numerical data.

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And maybe that is where numbers need some help. “Statistics” and statisticians imply such a non emotional, impersonal, aspect that the everyday schmuck comes out of the woodwork attacking the fact that people are not numbers numbers 6 degrees<and, yet, numbers can represent people>. For all that numbers offer us in terms of certainty it is a basic Life truth that no one person ever wants to view themselves as a number.

 

That is a fundamental challenge number users & presenters need to face.

Because while it is true, an unequivocal fact,  that the amount of data <numbers> we leave in our trail in everyday Life will grow even greater and that people are represented day in and day out by numbers that sheer overwhelming amount of information will continue to encourage people to suggest that the numbers do not represent … uhm …. “1” … as in me the individual.

 

And number users and presenters better get their heads wrapped around this because it isn’t about trust or certainty … numbers are factual indicators of health, prosperity, equality, opinion and quality of life <pretty much anything important to society & people>.

 

I say that because when non-numbers people start stretching numerical evidence too far, interpret data too loosely or misuse them simply to serve their cause it becomes a hazard to the betterment of everyone <including you & I>.

 

Numbers truly run into problems when they fall into the wretched hollow between representing true evidence and representing speculative forecasting/thinking.

 

Uhm.

Why does that matter?

 

One represents … well … analysis of what is … while the other represents patterns for what could be.

To the everyday schmuck like me I don’t really discern the difference when presented numbers … they are just some fucking numbers to me.

 

All equal.

That is bad.

 

And then … maybe worse?

When we end up in this wretched hollow of only dealing in numbers’ shadows and not the numbers themselves we trigger not only the wholehearted rejection of expertise … but a pervasive attitude that we should reject numbers in totality <and go simply with gut, feelings and opinions>.

 

free-bad-advice-business-blog-contrarianThat is bad.

 

That is wrong.

 

That is dangerous.

 

This battle is occurring between facts <cold hard numbers … the body itself> and feelings <the emotional investment, shadow, of the numbers>.

 

Look.

 

This is a very very important battle going on.

 

While numbers truly have no authority over a decision or conclusion … they actually are tools which we use to make decisions.

We misunderstand numbers sometimes because they do not make the decision for us <although we would love them to>.

Think about this.

 

In decision making numbers are only relevant in the feedback loop of the current activity. If you wish to continue on the path, then the feedback pretty much controls the decision <hence you associate statistics with authority>.

 

If you wish to change the path completely, then the statistics on what happens in the old system have no authority and little relevance.

 

This means that numbers, in general, do not indicate the future only share insights with regard to existing and past behavior.

 

Think about that for one second.

 

You should.

 

Because there are a shitload of politicians, non-numbers people and opinion leaders using numbers to tell us what the future will look like.

truth facts numbers understand question

And maybe that is where I will need. Because there are a shitload of extremely qualified think tanks and experts who use numbers to project, speculate and offer some futuristic thoughts … and yet their ‘thoughts’ are valued sometimes less than the thoughts of non-numbers people <who actually misuse the numbers>.

 

Smart people using smart numbers need to figure that out. Because if they do not … we are screwed. I say that because numbers drive a shitload of decisions.

As I wrote once … the business truth is that theory sells … but numbers runs the reality of business. This is also true for policies & Life.

 

My only suggestion to numbers experts is that they need to stop looking at numbers as numbers and recognize that their future, and the truth, is most likely found in presenting the stories found within the numbers’ shadows well.

 

 

 

normality is a paved road

December 15th, 2016

 

pretending-to-be-normal

 

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“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

 

Vincent van Gogh

 

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mener une vie normale <French>

to lead a normal life

 

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Benjamin Franklin:

 

“Human happiness comes not from infrequent pieces of good fortune, but from the small improvements to daily life.”

 

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“When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

 

 —–

Sigmund Freud

 

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normal-not-fun

Well.

 

Let’s just say “normal” gets a really bad rap.

 

It constantly has to fight off “boring” and “same as” and “routine” and … well … let’s just say a shitload of ‘not-so-positive’ sounding words.

 

I mean … c’mon. Is normal really that frickin’ bad?

And what hell is ‘normal’ … as in a normal life … anyway?

 

Anyway.

 

I imagine, as with most things in Life, normal is about balance.

 

Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know a shitload of people will suggest that ‘normal’ is defined by the individual and how they view life … but, in general, at one end of the  ‘how to live your life’ spectrum is wacko eccentric person and the other end is bland milquetoast boring to tears person.

 

Most of us reside somewhere in the middle of all that.

 

I tend to believe the problem is in how we most often have this discussion.

 

When we talk about living a ‘normal’ life it almost seems destined for some boredom and certainly when you decide to sit back with some self-reflection … uhm … it will most likely be generously dipped in some disappointment.

 

And then, on the other hand, it seems like a choice to live an ‘anything but normal’ life it almost seems destined for some sanity challenges and certainly what-is-normal-youth-advicesome self-reflection generously dipped in some discouragement.

 

Yikes … so your choice is either disappointment or discouragement.

 

Look.

 

None of us really want to be normal all the time. We want to spice it up a little and maybe do something not so normal for us <albeit … it could be fairly tame, or absurdly reckless, in other people’s eyes>. And it is that little choice … that ‘step away from what we normally do and think’ that kind of gets us in trouble.

 

Why?

Because most times we ‘step away’ by ‘being spontaneous.’

 

<note: spontaneous has a dubious relationship with ‘something different than the normal’>

 

Whew.

 

Truth be told … spontaneity sounds awesome <in concept> but more often than not disappointing. Not many people point this out but spontaneity actually sucks because anything “abnormal” or “not normal” is a great concept but has a nasty habit of creating more problems than it is worth.

 

Truth be told … routines <which is a characteristic of ‘normal life’> do a shitload to help establish our day-to-day ‘normal’ with a nice side benefit that it encourages us to believe we do have some self-discipline  <because the alternative is that we start thinking we live a completely chaotic undisciplined life>.

 

normal-life-break-rules-paved-with-decisionsYeah. a lot of these routines look really minor and really mundane if you sit down and think them through.

My advice? Don’t.

Just let them occur as naturally as breathing because these stupid little things tend to create a larger sense of rhythm or normalcy in your life.

 

And, yeah, even eccentric nutjobs incorporate some ‘normal’ routines in their daily Life.

 

But here is where balance enters the discussion.

Because we want both <although in today’s world it seems like there is no in between.

 

It may seem weird but I tend to believe no one’s sole ambition in Life is to be viewed solely as ‘normal.’

 

And, yet, we can live a pretty frickin’ good Life ‘normally.’ And, in fact, our normal most likely incorporates some fairly ‘abnormal’ … or let’s call them ‘unique features’ … aspects.

 

Most of us actually incorporate some unique shit into our lives which are simply reflections of our personality uniqueness. But because they are extensions of who we are we overlook them a being ‘normal.’

 

Let’s face it.

normal-worst-2

Normal has a shitty reputation.

 

And it should not.

 

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“I don’t really want to become normal, average, standard. I want merely to gain in strength, in the courage to live out my life more fully, enjoy more, experience more.

I want to develop even more original and more unconventional traits.”

Anaïs Nin

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This isn’t about ‘fitting in’ or marinating some rigid code of conduct or even seeking approval in what you do. this is about doing shit that makes you happy … and I assume that ‘happy’ means you haven’t been <a> laughed at as a fool – just laughed at for having fun, <b> stared at as if you belong in some loony bin – just stared at because they know you are enjoying yourself  or <c> doing something insanely stupid just to gain some attention.

 

Yeah.

Sometimes this shit may be out of the mainstream but 99% of the time it is not unacceptable to everyone. It is just is not … well … the normal everyday 100% of the time shit people see or hear.

 

Whether you like it or not … suggesting ‘normal’ is completely self defined is … well … stupid.

 

Yes.

You should have your own way of seeing the world and the life you’re living.

 

Yes.

You should feel it is normal <as long as it is not a ‘statement’ but rather an natural extension of your ‘self’>.

 

Yes.

You should accept the idea that other people may feel differently about your version of normal.

 

All that said … here is where I think normal and abnormal go into conflict.

 

 

Yes.

You should understand that normal is actually defined by some standard operating procedures of the people, society & culture as a whole.

normal-slaves-of-ordinary-be-daring-different-assert

And, no, I am not suggesting some of the wacky crap society thrusts upon an individual <society tells me how I should be stuff> but rather the fact cultures, civilizations in a broader perspective, define some accepted rules of behavior – some “what I should do” stuff.

 

Let’s call them ‘core life action basics.’

These are some normal things which everyone should do and think in a normal day and a normal life.

 

Here is the good news for people who balk at ‘normal.’

 

The great thing about culture is it tends to give an individual a lot of room to expand upon these things. You can go about your life wearing whatever clothes you want and saying a bunch of different words as personal expression beyond the core. I call that ‘window dressing stuff.’ In other words I can dress up my core ‘normality crap’ in pretty much anything I want and express it with almost any words I want.

 

The trouble mostly revolves around the fact that some individuals infringe upon the core, change the core and sometimes do things which do not meet what most people would accepts as accepted normal behavior.

 

Here is not just a Life truth … but a civilization truth … a culture cannot permit that ‘abnormal normal’ to become normalized.

And while we often suggest it takes courage to express yourself in some ‘not-so-normal’ ways it actually takes even more courage to defend core normality.

 

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“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue?

 

It rather denotes a lack of courage.”

Practical Magic

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Anyway.

 

When it comes to this topic the bravest people in the world are not the ones who dont flinch_by_peacelovemusicstand out through self-expression of self-identity even if that identity is ‘not the normal’ but rather the people who unflinchingly defend normal core beliefs & behaviors and unflinchingly express it in whatever personal identity way they want.

 

Far too often we slot people on one side or the other where, in truth, we should be also slotting people into the third more significant slot.

I imagine the problem with that is that those people are not interesting enough to make splashy headlines nor are they boring enough to be masticated for being milquetoast.

 

And, yet, they were the bravest of us all. They chose to be normal & not-so-normal and fought relentlessly for both.

 

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just-shower-thoughts:

 

On my headstone, I think I want, “No one deserved death more.” That way, people will research my life and find nothing interesting, then actually think that for wasting their time.

Enlightened Conflict