Unfolding plans 23 – bad data gives off the repulsive odour of decay

Aren’t graphs great?  You can make them say whatever you like.  Play about with the x and y axis and you can make things look better or worse as you wish.  Alan showed us some at the extended management team to do with channel shift.  The optimists amongst us saw the lines getting better while the pessimists saw them getting worse.

There is a great show on Radio 4 called ‘More or Less’ which unpicks the statistical claims that people make to support their arguments. The presenter, Tim Harford explains – and sometimes debunks – the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life.  I got this from the web site.  Lies, damned lies and all that.

That’s the beauty of information.  You look at it and see what you want to see.  Some people prefer pictures, some like words and others are happy with graphs. Apparently there are those that prefer the medium of mime.

I think it was it John Locke from ‘Lost’ who said ‘if you want to find something the best thing is to stop looking’ yet it’s a human ability to see exactly that which they are looking for.  It works with people.  If you meet someone you despise you will remember everything that they do which supports your view of them.  You will ignore their good qualities.  If, however, you are with someone that you admire it doesn’t matter what bad things they get up to you will ignore them in favour of your perception of them.  We do it all the time.  Remember that everyone has some who loves them.

It’s the same with information.  What you will see is what you want to see.  We are all trapped by our perceptions and histories so be careful.

I wonder though if we could do better if we used all of our senses.  Humans are feeling creatures that think yet we look at information but we don’t listen to it or smell it.  We certainly don’t feel it.  Could it be that the data of a successful organisation is more harmonic than that of the less successful? Do good businesses play the better tunes?  Perhaps if we could hear what the data is telling us we would be able to understand whether the story was good or not.

You often hear that some scheme or other smells rotten and perhaps it does.  Could it be that bad data gives off the repulsive odour of decay while the good is fragrant and perfumed?

The drive around data analytics has, as far as I know, been predominantly visual with charts, screens, and infographics.  Remember our eyes deceive us.  An eye witness is notoriously unreliable yet the optical is the main way that we absorb and interpret data.

Could it be time for a change?  Let’s try and understand how our data smells like, sounds like, tastes like and feels like.  Perhaps then we’ll start to understand our world in a much wider context and in all of its varied beauty.

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