Numbers don’t always speak volumes


Roughly a decade ago, I was involved in a somewhat substantial negotiation and the topic of numbers and data was presented. 

It was relayed that substantial data was available that would help formulate a strategy or several.  

In fact, some were touting the wealth of data that would come our way as several years ago, a push was made to become a more data driven entity. 

And, indeed, at the end of the day, data was plentiful, and, to my surprise, the data did not move anyone at large. 

At the time, I will admit, I was much less experienced and even somewhat naïve thinking that everyone would see what I and some other saw from the data; 3 + 3 = 6. 

Yet, to my surprise, some would see the same data as representing 3 - 3 = 0. 

The data one person said, “can be manipulated to say anything.” 

This experience is one that remains with me until this day. 

The data did not resonate and speak the volumes we expected. 

In fact, I came to realize, that data does not necessarily speak at all. 

At the same time in my career, I recall taking numerous leadership training courses and I was excited to share with whomever was interested what I had learned in class. 

I realized I would not be able to share the content that I gained in a 39-hour class quickly and easily with anyone. No one would have that amount of time, and neither would I. 

So, I started to share stories of my educational journeys as I called it at the time. 

I would often ask people if it was ok that I share a story on this topic or that topic. 

I would say, “I love stories, I learn through stories, I remember stories, and I want to train through stories.” 

Data might not move people, yet combined with stories, the volume might increase and be heard. 

I will share a quick example that might be somewhat embarrassing to admit. 

I was once asked how many dress shirts I owned. My response was “about 100.” 

The response I got was somewhat neutral. 

Now imagine I responded by saying, “I have enough dress shirts to not wear the same shirt to work more than two times a year.” 

Now that is a lot of shirts, if not too many dress shirts for one person to own. 

Worry not, my new philosophy on dress shirts is buy one, donate two and I now only shop at thrift stores. 

So, moving forward, I decided that whenever I had data, which I do appreciate, I would try and present that data in plain language that might speak to people on a human level. 

Instead of reducing our expenses by Y% > by reducing our expenses, we hope to pay for 1 leadership training session for each employee each year moving forward. 

Instead of reducing hospital surgery errors by Y% this quarter > we need to ensure no one dies on our watch. 

Instead of increasing non-profit funding by Y% this year > we need to help 10 more people from homelessness this year. 

We are all human, our existence is our history, which is our story. 

Wha tis your story?  

I’d love to hear it.