We have gone crazy with numbers. No matter where you look, it seems like we’re trying to reduce life and people to a bunch of digits. I posted yesterday on how if you want to be a successful creator, you have to be an equally good listener. Besides listening, I think you have to stop seeing people like they’re a number.
For the last week, pundits and other media types have wondered how pollsters got the data so wrong in New Hampshire, predicting a blow out for Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama. In the end, Hillary Clinton “stunned” said pollsters with a “comeback win.” Of late, I’m seeing two trends: (1) people want numbers to be the ultimate answer to the question (whatever it may be); and (2) the rhetoric surrounding data feels more forced.
Numbers as the Answer
There’s beauty in numbers. They give the appearance of a clear and concise answer to many sticky problems. There’s an issue with relying so heavily on numbers for the answers. Data shields the source of the numbers—people—and people are anything but clear and concise. But we so desperately want clarity that we latch on to the numbers to declare victories, defeats, and everything else in between.
Forcing Numbers into Boxes
Whether it’s how the stock market performed or the latest poll on whatever topic that holds the public’s attention, the translators of said data are in trouble. For years, people dutifully answered questions put to them by pollsters. Now, some people intentionally give the “wrong” answers, hoping to skew the results. However, this reality seems to have little effect on the people gravely sharing the results of said poll as thought it contains the answer to life itself. The same goes for market research. Will we ever own up to the fact that we put huge amounts of money and time behind data that may or may not be valid?
Sometimes Numbers Matter—Sometimes They Don’t
Without insight, context, and analysis, data itself is a crutch, and remember the numbers only indicate what has happened, and sometimes point to what could happen.
There’s a reason why polls don’t always match up with election results, or why products predicted to fly off the shelf stay in place: human beings don’t like being seen as numbers. Reminiscent of a child who refuses to do what a parent wants, even though what the parent says makes sense, we fight the notion that someone can direct our individual behavior. Deep down, we hate the thought of being predictable and easy to categorize. What child says, “I hope a marketer has my buying behavior totally figured out by the time I’m 18?” We don’t want to lose our mystery, and numbers have a way of stripping the mystery from each of us.
From now on, the next time you see anyone touting a number as an answer, ask yourself whether the question posed is really answered by a number or if it’s a bit more complicated. I’m betting on complicated if the question is about people, because humanity is rarely that easy to define or to describe.Stewf. Some rights reserved.)