Data and The Drunk Man

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than illumination.”

Andrew Lang (1844 – 1912), Scottish poet, thinker and literary critic

Using data is a crappy way to change someone’s mind. If all we’re tossing out is numbers, the odds are pretty good that we’re simply repeating the chorus of our song at the expense of the verses.

The story is told in the verses. The story is where the emotional connection gets made with our point, our position. If we’re using data at the expense of stories, we’re substituting something rational over something compelling.

Buying decisions are made emotionally and then rationalized with information, data or facts. I’ve been blessed with some very smart friends, many of whom are actuaries, CPAs, attorneys, and even judges. Even the actuaries look for the “why” behind the numbers, and base their decisions, strategic or otherwise on the stories the numbers help tell. Because the numbers never tell the entire story. Even though the “figures don’t lie” — the wise seller will put them in context and the wise buyer will consider them a part of their decision.

Dad said it differently; “Figures lie and liars figure,” he generalized, and he was on the right path, even though I don’t buy the dark undertone of the position. Business and salespeople who rely solely on numbers might be of a fixed mindset when a growth mindset is key to being viable tomorrow.

If we’re using data as more than a support mechanism, we are likely to lose our way and end up in an icky place. If we’re using stories and leveraging data to prop up the most important elements of those stories, our direction likely matches our intention.

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