On Average, Still Dead

“We must keep in mind the story of the statistician who drowned while trying to wade across a river with an average depth of four feet. That is to say, in a culture that reveres statistics, we can never be sure what sort of nonsense will lodge in people’s heads.”

     –  Neil Postman (1931 – 2003), American writer, critic, and philosopher

Yesterday on over-reliance on data, today on an equally dangerous pursuit…basing strategies on averages.

The use of averages denies context.  Not just the failure to acknowledge the human element — any context at all.  Averages are numbers used by procurement teams — probably seein’s how the procurement function seeks to strip all the differentiated value out of a buying decision.

Especially in the profession of selling, we have to be very careful with averages.  Perhaps Pat closes 25% of the deals in which Pat engages.  What if they’re the smallest deals?  What if the problem isn’t the number of deals Pat closes, but the number in which Pat engages?

Postman’s perspective sums it up well.  We can use averages (numbers, stories, lots of things) to rationalize what we want to believe, or we can dig until we find out what really matters.





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