Are Your Neighbours Spying On You?

0
141 views

Share on LinkedIn

W Edwards Deming is often quoted as saying: “In god we trust, all others must bring data”.

His point was that if you want to improve an operation; hunches, beliefs and superstitions just won’t cut it. You need to have the data that shows what is really going on. No data, no improvement.

Unfortunately the data isn’t enough. Data by itself won’t tell you much, not unless you can interpret it properly.

Tragically, most people think that interpreting data is easy, but in truth, it is downright hard.

It is hard not to jump to the wrong conclusion

The Psychologist Thomas Gilovich studies the way people make decisions. He has shown how, when faced with difficult problems and data, most people jump to completely the wrong conclusion.

One of his nastier examples is the bombardment of London during World War Two by V1 and V2 rockets, or, as they were less than affectionately known, “doodlebugs“.

Flying bombs showered down on London in 1944 and 1945 killing thousands of people. The map below shows where they landed in central London. (Warning, it is less than pin point accurate, it was the best I could manage with a paper map and Power Point).

London Bombing


Precision bombing

The bombs clustered along the banks of the Thames and to the North West over Euston and Regents Park. This is even clearer if I divide the map into quadrants.

london quadrents

It was of obvious concern to Londoners that the enemy were so precise when firing their rockets from a hundred miles away in Northern France. Many speculated that German spies were living in Finsbury and Clerkenwell (north and east of the river). That would explain why that area was protected from the devastation.

But it was little more than point and shoot

The truth though was very different, all the Germans were doing was pointing the bombs in the right general direction and hoping they had put in enough fuel. If I cut the map diagonally, the evidence behind the “precision bombing” looks a lot less compelling.

Map cut diagonally

When is a pattern really a pattern?

So the pattern that everybody saw and recognised wasn’t really a pattern at all.

Which leads to my question:

Is that data about your business telling you something significant or is it just noise?

This is not the place for a detailed statistics lesson (and I would quickly reach the end of my knowledge). But if you don’t know how to answer my question you could do worse than employ and analyst or two who can.

If nothing else, it will save you from the embarrassment of accusing your neighbours of spying on you.

If you enjoyed this post click here for updates delivered straight to your inbox

Read another opinion

Related Articles
  • Big Data: How to Cope With It
    We are accumulating data at a truly alarming rate:Loyalty cards Phone bills Search queries E-mails Blog postsYou name it, it has data and it is all being squirreled away. Gigabytes, …
  • The Right Way to Present Information
    I have a pet hate, in fact it is more than that, it is guaranteed to wind me up, start me stuttering, twitching and dribbling from the corner of my mouth. My pet hate is people dressing up piles of n…
  • Employee Engagement: One Statistic You Really Should Know
    There are lots of statistics about employee engagement and how important it is. The problem is most of them are, not to put too fine a point on it, dull.Let me give you an example: Some very dul…
  • Do You Suffer From Too Much Information?
    I have a new car to driveIt is fantastic, it is the best type of car in the world, it is my wife’s company carEverybody should have one of these, I don’t need to buy petrol, check the oil, top…
  • Should my Wife Drive?
    If you see a couple driving together in a car then statistically speaking it is twice as likely that the man is driving.Is this safe? Insurance premiums are cheaper for women; this is because the…

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here