by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert
Statistics have a sort of magical appeal and are a bit like mathematical enchanted tricks, aren’t they? The worlds of business and politics are littered with statistics. Some individuals using statistics are like the diplomat who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age. They are selective about the dates they choose, and about the numbers, that they do not want to use in order to keep their audience happy.
Statistics can baffle and excite an audience. They can be a calming remedy. Take stabilizing statistics. They are like looking through the glass of the oven while baking a soufflé; it may hold but with a little draft of opening the oven door, it will still go puff and fall together. With statistics, one can also tell one positive truth while silencing the negative other half. This tactic is mainly used to prevent that the messenger himself gets hurt. However, it may work on the individual in question like using a silencer on a gun that shoots oneself in the foot, because at some time the truth will come out. It is a tactic of propagandists using their communication like an equivalent for beauty cosmetics; cover-up that is not waterproof.
Even if facts are tough, a message can still encourage the listeners. Like the general telling his troops who were completely surrounded: “we now have the opportunity to attack the enemy in any direction” or the other military leader who once said: “we’re not holding on to our positions, we’re not going to hold on to anything, we’re going to move ahead”. True leaders don’t use propaganda or statistics; they are in the frontlines to charge and actually and actively make things happen. There was a romantic time when officers pulled their sabre, loudly yelled “Attack, follow me”, charged in front of their men and they were willing to take the highest risk of being injured first. In politics things are different, “Attack, I follow you!” is the essence of the common slogans of politics from behind. The bugler is also taking a backseat next to his politician; of course, for better communication they have to be close together.
Recently I met a politician and I asked him whether he was resilient. “Like a Jo-Jo” he responded. I was puzzled, and I wondered what to think of the meaning of the word ‘resilient’ because I’m hearing it more often lately. So, I looked it up in the dictionary. The politician was right. Because the first synonym it showed was ‘flexible’. Typical for a politician, I thought. From a populist leader, I would rather have heard that he would have used words indicating that he is persistent or tenacious like a bulldog.
Performers and their coaches know where to set the bar that should be jumped; always higher than the previous mark. They always try harder to come out on top and avoid the agony of defeat. As for high hopes, I’ve also heard about doping and drugs addicts saying that they like being high; unfortunately, they belong in the category of helplessly hoping victims.
Some people love to use the half-empty and half-full glass comparison. They think that it is clever way to perplex audiences. If the glass is half either way, it just means something is wrong with the brew or there is a lack of commitment to consume it. This half-half stuff may have been well explained by George Carlin, a five Grammy Award winning stand-up comedian and social critic, who once said about average persons: “Think about how stupid the average person is; now realize half of them are dumber than that”. I don’t think that anyone will take this personal; after all they considered Carlin only to be a comedian. Plus, even the average person usually thinks he isn’t.
The concluding question is, who and what is right? Maybe the pioneers are right. You know? The guys who you can recognize by rolled up sleeves and the first two buttons of their collar open which is their way to dress for success. When they start a business, they don’t even have time for statistics. They work hard and give it all they have in themselves. Those forerunners are typified by the virtues of being persistent and tenacious like a bulldog. Their attitude is about accomplishment. Growing or improving their activity regardless of statistics either way is not about comparing with the colleagues or the competition; it is about outdoing them, working harder to get new business, and also about finding different ways to increase revenues.
If you absolutely insist on some humble guiding statistics of encouragement, I personally don’t consider things encouraging unless growth is stable and consistent, and higher than 5%; and an investment is not an investment unless it yields more than 10% net. Even those percentages should be ballpark minima. Anything more than those numbers is just encouraging, anything less is not worth considering seriously unless one wants to run things as a hobby or to keep other people busy. In the worst-case scenario, the latter is the direction towards a breakdown, be it a nervous one or a financial one, or… both.