Archives for posts with tag: statistics

Subtitled “Getting Smarter about Visual Information,” How Charts Lie is a plea for the public to educate itself as to how we are misled everyday but the very tools that are there to make our understanding easier. As the economist Ronald Coase once stated, and then was forever quoted or misattributed to others, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

How Charts Lie is a sublime book. A book that actually makes you smarter, or certainly appear so. Reading it leads to an understanding of how statistics, and in particular charts, are misused to bolster some cases and discredit others. Using real world examples, Mr. Cairo shows how charts are often the unwilling accomplices as data is cherry picked, zoomed too far in on, zoomed too far out on, and data sets that have no business being used together are presented as unquestionable truths because they come in the form of a chart.

This is less a book about how charts themselves lie than how they are misused and how to read charts properly in the first place. A chart only shows what is there is an often-used refrain throughout. How Charts Lie is also a great introduction into some of the most often used charts and how they should, and should not, be used. That it is easy to produce a chart that seems to show that smoking leads to long life spans throughout the world is an example that should give us all pause and adopt “correlation is not causation” as our mantra.

An easy and fun read, How Charts Lie is colorfully illustrated with charts, both good and bad, which make what could be a dry academic text come alive in the mind of the reader. It should be noted that this is my second reading of “How Charts Lie.” The audio edition I originally purchased did not come with the PDF of charts and illustrations as it was supposed to – I’m looking at you estories.com. This rendered the book, interesting but fatally flawed and led to me also purchasing the latest hardback edition. I am so glad I did as it contains a new afterward written on May 3rd, 2020. This inclusion of how charts have affected the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – he postulates that the CDC’s “flattening the curve” graphic will become one of the most iconic visuals in history – brings added urgency to our quest for better visual data.

In a world where fake news, false equivalency, bad charts, and just plain lies are daily scourges which have real world consequences it is great to see a non-partisan work standing up for facts and truth.

That people have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for data presented visually, means that increasing our visual vocabulary has never been more important. Not adding to the problem and ensuring that our own charts are truthful and accurate is a great place to start.

How Charts Lie is guide to doing that and so much more.

measures of success

When reading business books, the reader, hopefully, takes away some great new ideas. Or has a realization that they should double down on something they are already doing. Occasionally, one comes across a book that actually reframes what you do and how you do it.

Mark Graban’s last book, Lean Hospitals which I reviewed here, had that effect on me; it made me realize that as a manager, my strength is to focus on processes and work with my team to make processes work better. Now with his latest book, Measures of Success, Mark has done the same again; this time with how we look at data and measure results.

The main argument in Measures of Success is that as managers we often are given, and collect, huge amounts of data that but that we either overact to “noise” or miss the signals that the data is giving to us because we are looking at that data in the wrong way. What Measures of Success gives us is a tool, in the form of an X-Chart and an MR chart, which allows us to view the data in a process and see the signals that the data is giving to us. Armed with these “signals” managers can then try to find out what has happened to the process to cause the signal in the first place. Because we are not chasing our tails looking for signals that’s are just noise and therefore not indicative of anything we should have the time to react appropriately when we see a valid signal.

Mr. Graban not only explains how X-Charts and MR Charts work, and how they work together, he also gives the reader exact instructions on how to create them and also why they are superior to other charts and methods of looking at data. He is particularly dismissive of targets and trend lines and provides damming evidence for both. The whole section, in fact reminds me of the Economist Roland Coase’s famous quote; “If you torture data long enough it will confess to anything.”

His case is compelling.

There is a point early on in Measures of Success where I was having issues understanding exactly how MR Charts (which measure rate of change) related to X-Charts (which measure actual data). Thankfully, a very helpful appendix takes the reader step by step through creating both, including excel formulas and providing links to where templates can be downloaded. The take away here is: if you get stuck read the appendix.

“Measuring is Easy, Managing is Hard.”

Measures of success, at its heart, is a plea to manage from what the data actually says, not what a manager or senior executive thinks it says. It makes the case that; “We don’t manage the metric, we manage the system that leads to the results, and we lead the people who help us improve the system.” If we set a target, what does that mean, other than just being a vanity metric pulled out of thin air? If we are wanting different results that what we already have the focus should not be on the target but on changing the system that gives us those results.

Mr. Graban’s Measures of Success is actually quite a short book, but is filled with color illustrations, and examples with which to make his case. There is even a section on how to implement X-Charts and MR-Charts at your business.

For anyone who considers process important to their work, and those who look at data, Measures of Success is a must. This is a book that promotes a structural change in how managers react and adapt processes. Most business books talk about how we manage change, few focus on why we are changing in the first place or whether there is an actual need to change.

Simply put, this book will change how and why you manage.

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