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.

 

—-

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.

—————

 

 

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.

 

 

 

responsible for what you tame

January 25th, 2017

responsible for what you tame leadership people employees

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“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”

 

—–

The Little Prince

 

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I cannot play with you,” the fox replies. “I am not tamed.”

 

“What does that mean – to tame?”

 

It means to establish ties. To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…please, tame me!”

 

I want to, very much,” the Little Prince replied, “but I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

 

“One only understands the things that one tames,” the fox said.

 

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Leadership.

 

afraid to grow into your heights life loseLeaders have a tough job.

 

We call it managing but in reality it is taming. You tame the independent wildness and tame the ability & potential so you can understand it, and it can understand itself, so that eventually there is a mutual progress to play the game as well as it can be played.

Please note that nowhere in there have I suggested “blind obedience.” Taming, in this view, is reaching true understanding so that real personal growth occurs.

 

That said … in that metaphorical expression of leadership … you own what you tame.

 

I say that because far too often we leaders & managers view management as something we do for the benefit of the organization and, hopefully, the benefit of the people … but we ‘own’ no responsibility for the individual in terms of actions or who they become — and certainly not ‘forever.’

 

Some of us view ourselves as shapers in some form or fashion but lean back against the belief we only dent the surface of who and what the person is and will become.

 

We view what we do as possibly taming but within the purview of just a chapter in their lives … not an entire story.

 

In some ways we do this simply as an act of self-survival.

 

The truth is that investing too much personally into your business; the organization and the employees can … well … kill you.

 

Okay.

Maybe not literally kill you … but figuratively it can become a daily strain on your psychological health.

 

Many of us, out of pragmatism, eye our relationship with employees as a story with a finite end – be it positive, sad, joyful, disappointing or ambiguous – but it is, in reality, just the end of a chapter.

 

The story keeps going.

Ours and theirs.

business inclusiveness

And while we may represent only a chapter in a larger narrative … well … we own what we tame. This is an inclusive way of leading & managing.

 

You include yourself in someone’s Life and … well … you own what part you tame.

 

Uhm.

 

Of course … this can also swing to the opposite more dangerous side – an exclusive leadership side.

 

This is ‘ownership’, not owning, of what you tame.

 

You don’t become part of them you simply offer a voice to them – I sometimes call this ‘pack mentality leadership’.

 

These are the leaders who say “on my team <or in other words “mine”> forever.”

 

Leave and my wrath is upon you.

 

Not want to be tamed by me? you are “un” whatever it is I stand for.

 

And this is where exclusive leadership truly rears its ugly head.

 

There is little vision, there is a lot of ‘features’ in the offering <more money, more jobs, more titles, more wins, more whatever> and therefore the incentives do the work and not any persuasive direction or vision. The ‘pack attitude’ is a means to an end and a vision in and of itself.

 

—-

 

“Managers tend to use compensation as a crutch.

After all, it is far easier to design an incentive system that will do management’s work than it is to articulate a direction persuasively, develop agreement about goals and problems, and confront difficulties when they arise.”


Michael Beer, Harvard professor of business administration

—–

 

chaos team alignmentThe features, the actions & behavior of those who belong on this team, are how they speak of unity and teamwork, i.e., “everyone should act this way … but we are the ones who do.”

 

Or how about this?

 

“The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.” <Trump used these words once awhile back>

 

In other words … the only people who truly count are the ones who are in this leader’s team.

 

Even worse?

They use the ‘us versus them’ polarization as a means to suggest “team personality & character” all the while these types of leaders actually do it to create their own power structure.

 

They don’t desire to include anyone else nor do they tend to reach out to others <albeit they make some inclusive noises on occasion> they desire to build a construct where people ask to join <because they should, of course, have to ask> and are not asked to join.

 

Excluding leaders love the ‘us versus them’ aspect. They love being derided and they love opposition. All these things do is solidify the team’s belief they are different & better & know more than the others.

 

The team becomes what represents what is real & right and the leader controls what is real & right. The leader’s people are truly the only people that count and the leader hasn’t tamed ability but rather attitude.

 

And here is where the ownership of what you tamed hits a dangerous spot.asshole bad manager

 

The leader has tamed an attitude but feels little ownership of the people themselves. Therefore should the leader decide to move on or get tired of whatever it is they are doing at the moment they feel no remorse in leaving people behind <who still harbor the attitude he/she tamed>.

 

The pack remains, the pack mentality still seethes, but the pack leader is no longer there.

 

Anyway.

 

Let me close with some thoughts.

 

I think it is a healthy thought for every manager & leader to ponder ‘you own what you tame.’

 

Leadership and leading is never easy and I have the scars to show to prove it.

 

Bad we help thatI found it naturally tempting to build a quasi-pack mentality in my groups as a younger leader & manager.

I was, and have always been, a more aggressive business person – I am not fond of status quo and not particularly fond of ‘the safe road.’

 

I can absolutely state that as a manager you can feed off of the ‘pack mentality’ attitude. It is exhilarating and almost like a drug … and maybe more dangerous … it can feed into a self-belief aspect that can edge upon arrogance and obliviousness to the greater good.

 

I don’t think I ever fell off the cliff on this but I certainly got a glimpse of the edge.

 

As I gained more experience I saw the danger in doing so <to my team member, to my organization & to myself> and sought to find some balance.

 

You can tame your people’s ability & attitude and they, and you, will benefit at the time and in the future <whether you are still working together or not>.

 

Enlightened Conflict