Dave Snowden

Judgement & statistics

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Watching the rugby match between Scotland and Ireland today was interesting for a neutral.  Come to think of it, its about the only match where I am ever neutral, support being in the sequence Wales – Fellow Celts – Anyone who isn't England.  The interesting feature is that on all the statistical evidence Ireland should have had a walk over, but they lost.  Around 70% of both possession and territory with the opposition theoretically exhausted by a tackle count three times your own would normally assure you of victory.  If you watch coaches during a match you see them looking at computer screens more than they are watching the play.  Teams of analysts are mapping every aspect of the game and those are presented graphically in real time.  The trouble is that statistics count what can be counted and that can never be the whole picture.

The same applies in non-sporting organisations.  Numbers are good, but they are never the whole picture.  Its easy to focus on them, they give the comfort of apparent objectivity and used to support human judgement they have high utility.  The problem is when they replace judgement rather than supporting it.  Of course in the ordered aspects of any enterprise statistics and numbers can do a lot of the work for you, but in a complex situation they can be dangerous.  Applied to ordered aspects (boundary conditions, probes and the like) they have utility, but for the system as a whole they are more problematic.

A year or so ago I had some initial conversations about using SenseMaker® with season ticket holders to allow those knowledgeable about the game to give feedback as to attitude, commitment and the like in real time; using a crowd rather than an expert.  That fell on stony grounds, or rather it was a little to challenging an idea for the people who supply the highly analytical software.  However I'm going to return to it at some stage.  In the meantime whole of workforce engagement and citizen engagement is something we can do now.  The intangibles need mass participation to get objectivity and if used properly they given guidance but cannot substitute for judgement.