Numbers are powerful things. They somehow have this permanent quality to them, and far too many of us accept them as the truth. As the phrase goes 'there are lies, damned lies and statistics.'
Numbers should always be challenged, wherever possible. They are nearly always open to interpretation.
I wrote an article a while ago about how CEOs need to push back more when they are presented with a slew of data about their business. In actual fact, in order for this data to be as accurate as possible, every member of an organization should be playing their part in the analysis, long before the CEO thinks 'hey, this doesn’t sound right.'
Being analytical is a habit that anyone can pick up. It comes more naturally to some than others, but essentially it is all about asking the right questions. If you are given a number and you want to know where it came from, ask some questions….
How did you come about this client satisfaction figure? Who was surveyed? Who provided the answers from within their organizations? What period did the survey cover? How does it compare with other clients? Etc.
The reason that kids grow up so quickly is that they are permanently enquiring about the state of the world. They have an opinion, and then the facts change and their worldview changes seamlessly to adapt to the new reality. Everything to them is up for debate – that is what makes them a joy to be around. They take an interest in the world and try to make sense of it in every way they can.
Imagine the scene…. You have been working for three months on a complicated project. You come out with your findings and inform your colleagues of a few of the top-line numbers. They all go 'oh yeah, well done, ok then' and carry on with their jobs. Wouldn’t you rather that a few of them felt the urge to dig into how you came about your findings? Wouldn’t it be nice if they showed an interest? It wouldn’t be threatening, on the contrary, it would be flattering. They value your work, and they want to understand how you went about it, thereby learning from your thought processes.
This scenario doesn’t happen anywhere near as much as it could.
Many of us sit in our silos at work, with the same people and the same numbers floating around us. If we were to question the sales numbers, maybe it would lead to a chat with someone in market research. Maybe that would then lead us to take part in formulating the surveys rather than receiving the finished product.
When you ask questions, you become involved. When you become involved, you understand. When you understand, you can change the world.
That is why we all need to become analysts.