Deceptive Facts

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
― Sherlock Holmes

What is a fact?

Dictionary definitions essentially say it is information supported by data; something that is true; objective.  We have previously looked at the importance of perspective in gathering and using data – calling “facts” into great question.  Even without the dictionary, those of us with children understand this perspective.  “He started it” is a accusatory mantra that even the great detective Holmes would find frustrating.  So when we are trying to plow through the landscape of business tools and understand a good process for improving our results – what do we do?  If there isn’t reliable factual information, do we just guess?  Use instinct or personal preference?  Recommendations or social media?  None of these are great options.  They are all dependent on someone else’s experiences.  What worked for them, at a given point in time, with specific market conditions MAY NOT work for you.  Hard to believe, right?  The internet is filled with sites proclaiming “if you do it my way, you’ll get rich.”  Not likely.  sherlock-holmes-147255_640

Facts that change

Good mentors, advisers, consultants – whatever the terminology won’t give you a path to follow.   They will provide tools for you to find your own path.  Think of this example.  Henry Ford built cars.  Lots of cars.  He industrialized the assembly line, basically created the middle class with stable, good paying jobs, and would give you a car in any color as long as it was black.  There is a great legacy in the US from the Ford Motor Company and his creations.  If you were Elon Musk (cool thought), and building Tesla cars, does following the manufacturing practices of Henry Ford make sense?  Is that a successful path?  Why not?  Ford was working with factual information.  Simple answer: Facts are specific to their environment.

Extreme example, you weight 100 kg today.  Go to the moon.  You weight 16.5 kg.  You change environment, the facts change.   Ford was well known for paying factory workers enough to create a market for his cars.  For Tesla or Ferrari – not a great idea.  Increasing pay scales to that extreme would make them unprofitable.  No one even suggests they attempt it, but still many “business gurus” sell that same philosophy of “do what I did.”  It is a failing proposition.

Finding your own facts

We should learn lessons from success (and failure).  Look for tools – not answers.  Environment is both a place and point in time.  Ford evaluated the marketplace, understood his product and manufacturing, his employees, and his customers.  He built a very specific plan that worked in that environment.  So how is that different from following a path?   You should not evaluate the SAME variables.  You need a data collection strategy to find out what’s important to you and your customers.  Build a model of your environment, then map out your own path to success.  If you need help, let us know.  Comment below with specific scenarios and we’ll be glad to discuss.

 

The Result of Failure

thomas-alva-edison-67763_1280I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways it won’t work. – Thomas Edison


Failure in 2016

We have a modern national culture that despises failure. That’s not too strong a statement today. Everything from the health care insurance nightmare to ability to rent an apartment depends on a low risk approach to life and finances.  Participation ribbons and trophies for every team show how much we dislike failure.   Everyone’s a winner!

Why is this? Certainly it is not the case historically – one can see the pride with which we chronicle the business failures of Abraham Lincoln in textbooks and children’s stories. There was a time that failing and trying again was respected.  Even through the early part of the 20th century, our great inventors and industrialists were comfortable with failure being part of the road to eventual success.


An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.  – Charles Kettering


Path to Success

There are commonalities in the great historical failures.   Those who achieved greatness did not fail in a random fashion.  They had a plan – and modified it as data and situations changed.  Look at the example of the Wright Brothers.  Many of their contemporaries were better funded and more experienced, yet they were successful in creating their aircraft.  Why?  Certainly they were smart, and worked hard – but that wasn’t what differentiated them.  Collection of data and modification of their approach was critical.  They studied the field (their competition), and conducted experiment after experiment.  Historical collections such as those at Carillon Park or Wright Cycle Co show models they created, miniature wind tunnels they invented to test their theories, and notebook after notebook filled with systemic observations.invention-60529_640

Similar approaches can be seen with Charles Kettering and Thomas Edison.   Kettering frequently commented on the struggle in teaching students to fail with purpose – gaining knowledge with each step.  Edison inspired the creation of the first corporate R&D center at GE.  Clear application of the scientific method to business and engineering problems.

Failing Better Today

These great figures in history were able to apply themselves completely to the task at hand.  They were committed to solving problems and through great effort collected data and tested solutions.  This is a model that you can follow.  Don’t be afraid of failure and you can stand out from the masses!  Find your business problem.  Determine how to test your theory.  There are many resources depending on the nature of your business.  Anything from A/B testing for web sites to Six Sigma quality tools might be useful.  A business analyst comes armed with a sophisticated toolbox and is a great option, but you don’t need to wait!  You can start with a notebook and the scientific method.  The general steps are provided for reference below.  Just remember  – a failure in the scientific method is still a success.  You’ve proven what doesn’t work, and narrowed the field of possible choices.  Good luck, and great failures!


Failure is always an option.  – Adam Savage, Mythbusters


Scientific Method

  1. Define a question (business problem)
  2. Gather information and resources (observe – check out existing knowledge or competitive landscape)
  3. Form an explanatory hypothesis – what do you think is the right answer?
  4. Test the hypothesis by performing an experiment and collecting data in a reproducible manner. Limit the scope and impact!  Small steps.
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and determine steps forward.

 

The U in Usability

receipt

Usability is often confused with graphic design.  Clear, clean design can certainly aid usability – but isn’t the core.  Usability is essentially providing the most efficient way to accomplish a task once it has been taught.   Note the bold text.  Usability doesn’t mean absolutely intuitive – just efficient.  Take the iPod as an example of beautiful design and great usability.  Not intuitive.  Takes a few attempts to figure out various functions – no blinking lights or automated wizards to take you down a path – however, once you understand the functionality it is simple, easy, and fast.  So let’s assume you don’t design electronics or software for a living.  Why does it matter to you?

The same tools we apply to usability of software can be applied to any process.  Imagine you have an auto repair business, and each customer invoice takes an extra 2 minutes to complete due to extraneous boxes, non-sequential layout, unclear instructions and the like.  You have 2 customers an hour.  Thirty-two minutes a day of your time not billable.  One hundred and sixty minutes a week.  You have given up 6.5% of your revenue for one of your employees because of a form.   Take the next step – if this extra task is interaction with your customers – you are costing them time and money as well.  That is the perception your customer will have – that you are wasting their time.  Not the impression most of us would like to leave.

So what’s the solution?  A business analyst can assist with detailed evaluation of your data and mapping of your processes.  A great thing, and something Bright Beach Consulting can provide.  But that’s a longer term solution.  What can you do today, on your own?

 

  1. Only collect information that you can and will use.  There is a tendency to make complex forms – just in case.  In case of what?  Organ donation?  Building a team for the Zombie Apocalypse?  The information you need will vary based on your business.  Renting an apartment, finding a nanny for your kids – you want more data.  Retail services like a repair center, salon, 2 day clown college – not necessary to know very much about the customer.
  2. Think sequentially.  A great example of this is an address.  You wouldn’t ask for the Zip code first – that’s not how the customer stores or presents the information.  Yet, I’ve personally seen forms that require County before Zip.  Slows down the process – and is probably both unnecessary and redundant with the address and Zip.
  3. Group like items.  If you have to move up and down a form, or have more than 3 columns (boxes across) you are adding too much mental processing to the exercise.  If you want to save paper – focus on only collecting essential information, not adding boxes.
  4. Audit yourself.  Go look at the last 20 or 30 forms you’ve completed.  Where did text get crossed out or erased?  Where are the blanks – fields to eliminate.  Likewise – what extra information is written in Comments or across the page – you may need to redefine fields.
  5. Finally – Ask Why.  Inefficiencies are in every process.  The key to improvement is not accepting them, but beating them into submission.  Condition yourself to ask “why did I do that”?  You’ll find asking why drives more improvement than any other technique.

We would love to hear from you!  Did any of these techniques work well for your business?  Is there something we can do to help?  Comment on this article, or contact us.

The entirety of this site is protected by copyright © 2016 Bright Beach Consulting LLC

Privacy and Security

This isn’t a post about the security of your belt, although an important aspect of privacy.  This is about electronic privacy and security of your personal and business information.

There are lots of great resources on things like proper password, multi-factor authentication, best kinds of wireless security.  These are important to understand, but our focus today  is on the WHY of information security.  Securing everything in your life isn’t practical so you have to make decisions about where to spend your time and money.  To do this you should understand what information is of most value to you – and the highest risk target for the bad guys.

First – let’s talk about the critical inventory.  This is anything that allows either direct use of your resources (like credit card numbers), or identity theft (like your tax return).  Take action on this items.  Make a list  – a column for the resource and a column for where you are exposed.  Something like this:

risks

You may not have these items, or may have significantly more.  The idea is to identify where important data resides, and who has access.   What you don’t see here is a very common risk.  Home computer and mobile devices.   For most of us, the Exposure looks more like this:

risks2

Looking at the common thread – we can see why home or business network security is critical to good information security.

Next – list an action plan.  Take the items from your Exposure column – and decide what you are willing to do to protect this information.  For example, Physical Theft is an extremely common risk for most people.  Protection might include making photocopies of the cards or documents along with phone numbers for cancellation.  If your credit card is stolen, how long would it take you to find the customer service number and your card number?  Do you want that stress?  Give the bad guys a chance for more ill gotten gains?   Other protection might be more digital.  Good home network security makes you less of an easy target – and is well worth the few dollars of investment.  Make sure your phone is secured with biometrics or a password.  There are security products for mobile devices as well – if you do online banking from your phone or other high value activities, consider using one of these products.  See our Resources page for more information.

So the action plan above protects your financial and identify resources.   What about the non-critical data?   Every day you give away vast amounts of information about yourself.  Using credit cards at gas stations allow your daily commute to be transparent to your bank – and anyone with whom they share it.  Facebook posts about your vacation plans or dining selections – all information you are trading for access to the “free” system.  Think about this information.  For most of us, we’re willing to give up some of this privacy in exchange for the “free” tools.  Just make sure it is a conscious decision.  Take the same inventory for everything you’re sharing, and think about the impact.

  • Kids names on web pages – do you want ANYONE with access to that page to call your child by name in public?
  • Vacation plans – when no one is home?
  • Work related posts – everyone to know your boss’s name?

All personal information that is very accessible.  Think about it.  Be clear and decisive in what you give away.

If you have any suggestions for topics or would like to as us a question, comment on this article, or contact us.

The entirety of this site is protected by copyright © 2016 Bright Beach Consulting LLC

What’s in a Name?

clean-sea-coast-and-clear-water-website-headerBright Beach Consulting.  An interesting choice – especially for an Ohio based company.  Certainly our team loves (and longs to escape to) beaches and sunshine.  That’s a bonus reason for the name.   It actually conveys some imagery that is important to understand when helping others understand the interaction of data.

Think of standing on a beach.  An immense system beginning with the interaction of the moon’s orbit to the ocean.  An immeasurable number of grains of sand – some static, some washing through the waves – all representing the variation in a dynamic system.  The ultimate data set.

Imagine the sun shining brightly (as if it could shine any other way).  Illuminating the sand.  Letting us see through the shallow water, and far off reflections even giving hints of larger aspects of the system.

Consulting.  We think of this in the original usage.  You are doing the consulting – asking for guidance.  We are providing council.  Answers.  Helpful information.  Bright Beach Council sounds bit more like a sand volleyball league, so here we are: Bright Beach Consulting.

If you would like additional information about our services, click here to contact us.

The entirety of this site is protected by copyright © 2016 Bright Beach Consulting LLC

Dirty Windows

If you have a beautiful clean house, and dirty windows – what does the passerby think of your cleaning habits?  The interior of the house may sparkle – giving clear proof of your skills with a mop that even Martha Stewart would envy.  But from the outside, you’re a unrepentant Oscar Madison.

A simple observation supported by data, but incomplete at best.

We’ve discussed previously  (in The Neutral Zone) the risk of bias in data collection.  Who’s measuring and why, and the first task of the analyst to understand and correct for that bias.

The second major task for the analyst is navigating the data set.  We can dismiss the classical database of rows and columns.  Not only is it falling out of use from a technical perspective – it doesn’t accurately reflect the semi-structured format of most information.

You may read about “Data Lakes”, “Big Data”, and other concepts.  They all amount to the same thing – a bunch of related stuff.  We’ll go into this another time – but for now let’s continue to visualize a data set as a house.

Your house has millions of data points.  Not just each object with its attributes, but the relationship between objects.  For example, you have a chandelier that you love.  You can talk about the size, number of lamps, electricity used, lumens produced.  Pretty simple.  What else does it impact?  The size and height will impact airflow – maybe changing how your thermostat registers.  The position in a room drives other furniture placement.  Dining room table, then chairs, china cabinet, and such.   Two data points, size of chandelier and diameter of table have an impact on the rest of the house.  Reflected light on the chandelier may cause a window shade to be down, thus a reading lamp turned on in the next room.  Getting more complicated now.

Now let’s think about it if you’re a restaurant owner.  You probably have lots of different systems for tracking data like invoices, inventory, daily receipts.  What’s the relationship between these systems?  Do you pull in community information – like school calendars?  You have the data – but what does it mean?  Per ticket revenue goes up – a typical key metric for restaurants.  Why?  What can you do to control the other variables, or at least understand when you need to react?    Large chain restaurants manage some of these variables, but are also willing to allow more waste.   Small business owners can’t afford to do that.  You need to understand when you’re looking at dirty windows, and when you can see the workings of the entire house.

I like to think of data in the form of choose your own adventure books.  The data set is the same for every reader. Choices that you make drive different outcomes.  Each time you read the book, your understanding of the choices (the data set) gets better.  Our goal is to help you make the best choices.

If you have suggestions for additional topics, please comment on this article, or contact us.

The entirety of this site is protected by copyright © 2016 Bright Beach Consulting LLC

 

The Neutral Zone

Fans of Star Trek might recall the recurring plot lines about The Neutral Zone.  The bad guys crossing it, or an innocent needing assistance requiring the bold Captain (Kirk, Picard, et al) to cross into the Neutral Zone.  The irony of it all . . . there was NOTHING neutral about The Neutral Zone.

We have this same artificial neutrality in many places.  Journalism. Criminal Justice. The Internet.  But nowhere is it more frequently preached than business metrics.  From stock market valuation to individual performance reviews there is a recurring theme of data purity.

Facts are Facts.  Don’t blame me – It’s the data.  I don’t make the rules.  We followed the process.  It’s proven science.

All of these things assume that information has the ability to be intrinsically correct. Proven science is a great analogy to the misconception about data.  Electron microscopes provide a completely different “correctness” than the naked eye.  How we choose to look at and measure data has a direct bearing on the result.

The first question to ask of any data is – who is measuring it, and why?  How the data was captured makes a big difference in the result, and the intent of the researcher determines how it was captured.

Great example –  towing weights.  Many of my fellow RVers will be familiar with the sometimes significant difference between advertised weight and actual weight.  Additional options, fluids, battery, spare tire, and tools can cause variation.  On the tow vehicle things are just as sketchy.  Tow limit measured without anyone in the truck – incompatibility between tow limit and gross vehicle weight.  Why is this?  Engineers capable of designing trucks and RVs should be capable of using highway scales, right?

The purpose of each measurement causes these challenges.  There is a desire on the RV manufacturer to produce ‘towable’ products.  Light, fuel efficient, manageable.  They tend to strip out anything possible in their equation.  Truck manufacturers want to emphasize their power.  They tend to skew high.  Of course we can pull that.  But when designing – they look at specifications across the RV industry to determine customer need.  If the actual average RV weight doesn’t correspond to the  published data, then the design requirements of the trucks are based on a fallacy.   See where understanding the purpose of the data matters?

Why does this matter to an individual?  You are purchasing these vehicles.  You’re buying food with calories and nutrition measured with similar bias. .  .such as unrealistic serving sizes. If you’re running a small business you have raw materials and production costs that may suffer from these factors as well . . .and that’s where a business analyst can help.  Not to change your successful processes, but to help you make informed decisions about your customers and your costs.

For additional information about our services, or to suggest topics please comment below, or contact us.

The entirety of this site is protected by copyright © 2016 Bright Beach Consulting LLC