Statistically Irrelevant

Numbers may never lie, but they rarely tell the whole truth.

People consider statistical support of information as important. However, more important than the actual statistics is the ability to explain the variables that the statistics represent. Most importantly, statistics should always serve as a supplement to a point rather than the foundation of one.

Statistics can be and often are misleading, incomplete, or outright inaccurate. They are also constantly changing. People have become over dependent on the use of statistics, and create problems for themselves by taking statistics at face value. Statistics, like the numbers that describe them, are infinite. The same set of numbers can be shaped and framed to support two entirely conflicting claims. It is fostering an era of lazy arguments and illogical decision making.

This has grown increasingly prominent in politics, where it has become commonplace to cite numbers as the foundation of a position without developing any substance or context for that position otherwise. Politicians may be able to frequently and irresponsibly use statistics and get away with it. However, that doesn’t mean you should try to do so in your own business.

In business, people catch on to bad numbers quickly.

It is extremely important in today’s business world to be able to identify and decipher metrics related to developments. We are a data hungry generation, and people want to see numbers. Although, it is crucial to be sure that the use of numbers adds up into something substantive.

Data and analytical tools are more accessible through new technology than ever before. Anyone can efficiently use the web to track leads, traffic, engagement, sales, and so on. Big data provides big opportunities for identifying and understanding developments, but you better be sure you understand the numbers coming out of your mouth before you say them.

Take this for a basic example. I serve on the board for a membership based organization which has a competent analytical system to track developments. In a report, someone indicated that membership was up and used a statistic showing that the previous month had the highest amount of new members all year to support the claim. This was only partially true. Upon examination, it was evident that the previous two months had also exhibited the highest amount of membership cancellations all year keeping membership essentially flat. The rise in new memberships was also proportionate to the same period last year, indicating no new trend.

After that, no statistic the person used to justify progress possessed any value. No matter how great that the statistics being used looked, they no longer could possess the influence they otherwise would have.

Holes can be poked in even the most solid statistics. Give me any good statistic on some basic point, and I can turn it on its head and create a question about the point. On the contrary, one good point able to stand freely without statistical support can be used to resolve any question there may be about a number.

The use of language is far more important to business relationships than the use of numbers. In the end, the only numbers that really matter in business are those associated with dollar signs. Reconsider any statistics being used if they do not at some point proportionately correlate to dollar signs.

In my own business, we use Google Analytics pretty religiously. Not all of our clients fully grasp the entire scope of the work that we do. In fact, few of them do. We are able to better support the advice we provide and the work we conduct through the use of these statistics. However, the statistics do not significantly impact our work, they just help us communicate it. That statistics are not the foundation of the work, they are simply a supplement demonstrating the point of the work.

We measure traffic sources as one of our primary metrics. However, I don’t go into meetings announcing a client’s business is up because there are more leads being generated.

Professionals must be mindful that importance is relative to perspective. A number that may be extremely important to you may be irrelevant to another perspective on the matter unless you are first able to demonstrate the importance of your point in itself.