Dealing With Numbers And Stats

Lesson number: 

Take a moment to reflect on the volume of numbers and stats we are bombarded with on a daily basis. As an example, leading up to our presidential election this past Tuesday, the media touted polls and probabilities of the results from far too many sources. Years ago we left most of the polling to the Gallup organization – to predict results in elections. Now everyone is in the polling game from Newspapers and TV networks to internet and private polling organizations. With all their models and resources, everyone seemed to agree that this was going to be one of the tightest races in history. In the end, the margin of victory in electoral votes was 286-252. Not quite as close as the polls predicted. The exit polls conducted on Election Day had Senator Kerry winning the race handily. These polls proved even more unreliable with the pundits calling for a complete overhaul of the polling models used.

Next let's take a look at one of my pet peeves for decades which is College Football Polls and Rankings. These just get more complicated every year. It was bad enough when a group of Associated Press writers chose who was worthy of the ranking order each week, as well as which team was worthy of being called a national champion at the end of the season. However, the AP Poll was often challenged by the Coaches Poll (now ESPN/USA Today) which ranked teams slightly different and even picked a different national champion at the end of some seasons. Then recently, a third poll called the BCS or computer model was added to ultimately determine who is worthy to play in the final bowl game or national championship game. If you are confused by all of this, just think how confused the players and fans of Boise State University are. Their team is undefeated so far this season with an 8-0 record. They defeated their last opponent by a score of 69-3 and were still ranked at 14th this week behind 8 teams with one loss and Florida State with two losses. How reliable, and most of all, how fair are these polls and rankings?

Numbers and stats don't always make a difference in the behavior of individuals. In medical news this week, it was reported that 440,000 people die each year from smoking related illnesses. That staggering number of deaths occurring year after year should stop people in their tracks from smoking. Yet people stand in long lines at convenience stores to pay more than $5.00 a pack for cigarettes, and keep lighting up each day.

In business news we can watch every tick in real time on our favorite stocks or indexes. We can watch oil futures by the second or get statistics and analysis on every public company measured in every conceivable way. However, I am always astonished to read how many of the Fortune 500 companies lose hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars each year, while their CEO's rake in incredible salaries and stock options. It makes you wonder if anyone in management is paying attention to all these numbers and measurements all year long?

America is a country that is rich in statistics. We will try to predict and measure everything from cradle to grave in the products we produce and the lives we live. Being a numbers cruncher myself, I try to limit my energy and efforts to those stats that help me to make good decisions toward achieving my goals. I enjoy stretching myself by setting lofty goals and then keeping score to make sure that I follow some basic fundamentals and values each day to stay on track. I believe there is a great deal to learn from numbers and stats. But if you let yourself become overwhelmed by meaningless numbers, you will miss the opportunities presented by them.

When I see a statistic, measurement or poll I immediately ask myself – "can this measurement help me to achieve my present goals?" If not, I will avoid investing too much time analyzing these numbers or measurements. Instead, I keep score each day by asking myself the following key questions to keep my life on track:

Did I value my time today and utilize it wisely?

Did I achieve my objectives and keep score of them today?

Was I honest with everyone I interacted with today?

Did I come through on every promise I made - on time today?

Was I prepared for the disappointments I encountered today?

Did I praise more and criticize less today?

Did I stay both focused and balanced today?

By honing in on the right numbers and stats, you can keep score of the fundamental activities that can really make a difference in your life. Always try to use your relationship with numbers to achieve what you want from life in order for them to become powerful tools in shaping your lifestyle.