always have this incredible lack of faith in numbers and results.
deceptive. Usually. They get presented in a way that seems simple,
or with certain elements hidden from view, like a magic trick
with wonderful distraction and sleight of hand while those in
the spotlight wait for applause.
instance, are the fries at McDonald’s really America’s favorite?
They probably rack up the most sales… but… is that really the
the road from you, right now, is a place creating a plate of amazing
fries. Served hot… crisp… just the right amount of seasoning…
perfect. Someplace—perhaps close, perhaps not—there is a place
delivering fries that would make your knees buckle if you tried
to eat them while standing. They might not be perfect fries for
my tastes, but they are your perfect fries. How can those tremendous
fries at the local restaurant down the road and your own personal
paradise ever top the sales of a franchise behemoth like McDonald’s?
a few of you likely felt an initial reaction to my questioning
based upon a version of some thought that you believed McDonald’s
does make some tasty fries. Well… yeah. That’s actually pretty
accurate. They do. (I would add a couple of conditions to that
thought. Basically an understanding that: (1) The fries are served
hot. (2) Salt. Must be hot and must have salt. And honestly, the
hotter, the better. Plus, lots of salt. But not too much salt.
I think we can all unanimously agree on those two conditions.
Given that… absolutely… tasty damn fries.)
do you have an argument you can support that McDonald’s locations
are serving America’s favorite fries? One beyond just sales numbers?
Because we’ve got two very interesting scenarios being brought
– What numbers are being used to determine the definition of America’s
favorite? Likely sales. Pure sales. Not a blind taste test of
judges. This isn’t a four out of five fry lovers agree chewing
gum moment here.
– The wording of the statement. “America’s most popular” doesn’t
ring with the same potential passion as “America’s favorite” does.
If they say most popular, you know they are talking sales figures.
When you bring in that word popular, lots of people will wonderfully
recall hot and salty fries being served to them and think, yeah,
they do serve some good fries. But they keep saying favorite.
we set up a situation where every person that enjoyed a plate
of fries now and again could be accounted for… and over the course
of a week served each person anywhere between a handful and a
dozen plates of brilliant fries from different sources… would
the offering from McDonald’s be named the favorite?
I say they might. They are so identifiable and enjoyable and established
as a comfort food, that served at their very best a ton of those
asked would vote for them. Tough for Diner-Down-The-Street to
overcome familiarity and comfort. But I also believe the final
results might be a bit closer than McDonald’s would like us to
but this wasn’t intended to be an article about fries. It was
about how numbers can be twisted and presented in ways to create
different results. From that… simply this…
saying they’re the favorite is definitely accurate in some ways,
but just like the Jedi and the Sith, it’s about the information
you have and the viewpoint you are trying to support. All of it’s
true, and all of it’s good, from a certain point of view.
step outside of the box for a moment here.
you live in a cold-weather area? Ok… do you warm up your car?
the most part, we can debate things like flow and viscosity and
more as temperatures change. But, by and large, most mechanics
will tell you that you don’t need to warm up your car these days.
They’ll say that the way cars made now operate… the fluids involved
and the equipment and the advances in technology and design and
preparation… means that even if you did want to argue about some
facet of warming up the car, many cars, if not most, may actually
warm up better moving out on the road instead of parked in a driveway.
I’m guessing a good number of you already know where this is going…
people aren’t thinking about the car and what’s going on with
the engine and moving parts when they warm it up. They’re thinking
about using the defrost settings to clear the windows and heating
up the passenger area so they’ll be comfortable.
up the car? It’s not a simple yes or no question, with simple
yes or no results. Who are you asking? Where do they live? Why
is the car being warmed up?
actual numbers for whether or not warming up a car is necessary
for proper operations are not directly comparable when considering
the scenario of someone clearing off the windshield or wanting
it nice inside from the moment they sit down and close the door.
years ago, I was assigned a project by my department head at work.
It basically involved employee retention, which was being considered
an issue company-wide. During my initial research, I became aware
of several problems with the statistics we had been provided for
one thing, in our industry our department was often considered
to be primarily an entry-level area for new hires. This meant
that most people accepting positions in our department were just
beginning with the company. You probably would even find the majority
of these people thinking they would eventually be transferring
to another area… they were just trying to get their foot in the
then these brand new hires were entering a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week,
every day of the year operation. We were open on holidays. All
concept to understand here would be that many folks started their
employment only to find it was absolutely nothing like what they
thought they had accepted. When I was working on this effort,
our new staff were drawn from communities almost exclusively featuring
Monday thru Friday daytime work hours, finding out they were assigned
to schedules with overnight hours, through the weekends and absolutely
on for New Year’s Eve.
resignations… the retention numbers featured huge percentages,
and let’s not forget that some people were also fired.
on how you viewed something – such as our department’s transfer
rate as opposed to the company-wide rate – our department could
be viewed in several different ways. Some of them actually placed
us in a great place, doing better than any other group in the
a month after I discussed my questions and thoughts with him,
my department head and I were at a company meeting. Retention
was brought up. And in announcing an overall improvement, the
CEO showed numbers that not only matched some of what I had found
a few weeks earlier, but also could only have been realized by
changing what was being measured.
other words… he was in front of us bragging about how employee
retention had been dramatically improved. But the reality was,
none of the numbers we knew to be real were showing any improvement
for months (and actually, not for years). There was no way anything
was any different as he spoke. Retention was the same. The improvements
he was citing could only be created if something… say people transferring…
were viewed differently for each set of numbers.
could be talking about fries, stuff around your house, and results
from the office… the thing is, when it comes to numbers, you can
make them say pretty much anything you want them to say. It depends
on perspective. It depends on time and on place and on several
factors that often mean it isn’t a simple question.
worth keeping in mind that most of us couldn’t say what type of
gum that fifth dentist would have recommended for patients that
chew gum. Inquisitive minds are more than just a hat rack. But
the more important thought to understand is that inquisitive is
an important part of it.