Statistics don’t lie

When people say that statistics don’t lie, you have to take it with a pinch of salt. There is a popular joke that claims that 87% of statistics are made up, after all. I made that number up. See how that works? Assuming, however, that the people who gather the statistics aren’t morally devoid human beings or frustrated high school students who don’t want to interview random people in a city and instead make up their own statistics, stats are pretty straight forward.

Your statistics simply present values about a topic and that is all there is to it. When your statistics say you made three sales of red shirts last month, it is what it is. Because of their nature, stats are a valuable indicator for telling you how things are going. In the context of a business, checking your statistics is essential to surviving. You simply can’t ignore the numbers if you want to keep your business afloat. Unless you can poor thousands of dollars into a failing business because you hope that the statistics which you also paid for, are wrong.

The other side of statistics, however, is a grey area. How the numbers are interpreted and what story the person reading the data is trying to tell. Maybe the person has no ill intentions, but data could be read wrongly or simply misunderstood, colored by the opinions of the person trying to filter the data.

If you don’t want to face the fact that your business is failing, you might rationalize poor sales statistics or figures that indicate that you are performing poorly according to economic models. A good salesman might use stats that don’t really mean much to bolster his claims that you better buy his product, or you are missing out.

In my experience, it can be difficult to look at the facts and figures of your company and explain them in a way that’s unbiased. That’s why business owners might be better off by giving parts of their business to third parties who are unbiased in the sense that it’s their job to interpret the numbers in a way that keeps your business alive, sans the emotions of someone who is too closely involved with the business they are talking about.

On the other hand, interpreting statistics without knowing the full story behind them can be difficult as well. My “inspiration” for this post was how I revisited my statistics earlier today. I am working on some cool projects, but I somehow thought it was a good idea to look at how my other projects were doing.

None of them was doing well and I nearly used these statistics to convince myself that I shouldn’t bother with my new projects. But I wasn’t looking at the full picture. Yes, I was looking at the numbers, but I was intentionally misleading myself. I knew the story behind those statistics. I knew that all of those projects had stagnated because I’d given up on them so they were incomplete. The stats appeared to prove that the projects had failed, but I’d failed the projects by not investing enough time to give them a chance to grow. The statistics didn’t prove that I should never start a similar project again. It might appear that way at first glance, but the full story is that the statistics are a result of a lack of effort, which is what the numbers wouldn’t tell you.

Unless you tried to check out the front page of those websites, of course, in which case it would be painfully obvious. But that’s besides the point.

My point is, statistics are a great tool but you need to be honest when trying to read into them or hire a professional to interpret them for you and your business. When you do, you owe it to your business to listen to what your consultant’s got to say. They might be able to tell you part of the story you were trying to ignore.


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