Tag Archives: television

Data as snake oil


Lumosity Image

In studying for the Quantitative Methods test offered by World at Work, a module is dedicated to spotting when data is presented in a misleading way. The five things it suggests looking for are:

  • railroad tracks that distort intervals
  • graphs showing nominal data, that should be listed alphabetically
  • graphs that show data with no absolute zero (such as temperature scale)
  • graphs where part of the scale is lopped off, giving a false impression  of trends (you can’t see the y-axis zero point.)

A great example of this is the program Lumosity, which uses games to improve your brain in various skills such as remembering names to faces, calculating math in your head, observation, and the word at the tip of your tongue situation. I had seen a commercial for it and being one always looking to improve, decided to try the free version out.

The free version limits both the types of games that are available (maybe 9 out of dozens) and the number of games you perform daily (3 vs. 5.) I don’t recall there being any evaluation to provide a base point in the various skills that was not game related.

I participated on a nearly daily basis (missing 3 days sporadically) in the month of January. After a month I had three types of measurements provided to me through the (free version of the) program – a point value for playing the games (you get points regardless of how you perform), a series of horizontal bar charts that indicated a score in various skills, and a graph plotting the “brain performance index.”

The site provides some white-washed “science behind” it all, that throwing names of doctors at universities did not assuage my desire to understand – instead it made me look at it more askance for not providing the real science behind it. Building neurons is great, but there was no actual proof that the games built said neurons. Sure there are images of brain scans and a bar chart, but they aren’t labeled in a manner that inspired validation.

The three methods of measuring how one improved in using the service felt like examples of bad data to me. The first, where one got points for playing and showing up is reminiscent of an elementary school field day where everyone got a ribbon – even if they were in 15th place (out of 15 kids.)

The breakdown of cognitive behavior bar chart did not show which game had changed which score and by how much. You had to keep your own excel document to chart after each game which score changed and how – which defeats the purpose. I think instead this chart is just to make one feel as if they are making progress in the areas they specified one wanted to work upon when signing up for the program.

The BPI chart showed change in the total score over time – for the past 4 weeks only. It is possible that the paid version you could see the full history and zoom in and out to see trends. The fact that there was no real explanation as to what this score was (as the total was not the total of the bar charts) or how it was derived did not sit well with me.

Finally, there were no points to evaluate in a separate format performance improvement – it only had the games. This makes me feel as if there is a huge bias, in addition to all the hand waving and “ignore the man behind the curtain” that was going on. I was feeling more energized and productive while using the program, but in the two weeks since stopping I still feel the same so I believe it was due to other factors which I began at the same time (like studying for the W@W T3 test and refreshing my French skills.)

It’s pretty clear that I’ve stopped using Lumosity as I feel it’s just another time waster that is trying to milk one for money. I have better ways to spend my time and money, with better ROI. I do appreciate the refresher and skills the T3: Quantitative Methods module on identifying false representation of data to help me feel better about making the decision to stop using Lumosity. The first thing learned in T3 is – use data to make sound decisions. 😉

Morale of the story – use your brain and look closely. Data and representing data can be manipulated – beware of the snake oil!

Business Leader

Photo Credit http://www.changeboard.com

I’ve had skin in the HR game for over five years now. I’ve had my history lesson on how Personnel was created and then evolved to Human Resources and have seen the desperate fight to “have a seat at the table.” Now that we have “the seat” HR is evolving into Human Capital Management and being a Strategic Business partner/leader.

Raise your hand if you just won buzzword bingo. lol

One of the unique elements I have seen in this evolution is how the movers and shakers in HR and those that truly have “seats” or consult understand the greater picture of what business really is – all the moving parts of what is sold, why it is sold, how it is sold, how it is created, how materials are obtained to create it, the books are managed, people are managed, and profit made.

Being strategic, one must not just know all that and juggle it, but also see life through that perspective so that opportunities can be seen and taken at a moment’s notice, policies and procedures shifted smoothly and swiftly to stay on top of the market and social media/PR.

Let me give a non-HR centric example. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a book signing for a local chef (Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill and soon Gunshow, season6 of Top Chef) that had “made it.” I have friends that either currently or previously have worked in the restaurant business; I’ve done my time washing pots and serving food (although in a hospital, not a restaurant); and I’ve seen more than my fair share of tv shows like Next Iron Chef, Next Food Network Star, Top Chef, Food Truck Race, various Anthony Bordain shows, Kitchen Nightmares, Dinner/Restaurant Impossible, etc. to have an idea of what goes into the varying levels of chefdom and how a restaurant operates successfully.

There are chefs that love to cook and are good at it. There are celebrity chefs that on top of loving and being good at what they do, also have personality. It is possible to be either of those and not successful in the long run. To be successful as a chef one must think beyond their kitchen, beyond that restaurant, and to branch out to writing cook books, taking part in competitions, consulting, and various ways of getting their name out there which may or may not include tv shows. (Sounds pretty familiar right – work thine behind off, diversify your work portfolio and ye shall be fruitful. This formula translates into most roles and businesses.)

Listening to Kevin speak I heard true genius. Not only is he a culinary master (making it to the finale of Top Chef as an example), he has the down to earth personality that makes him likable, has grit and gumption, and business savvy. His cookbook Fire In My Belly is a cookbook like none other, and he meant for it to be that way. He thinks outside the box and isn’t afraid to act outside of it either. Those certainly strike me as sign posts for strategic leadership and success.

To toot my own horn, I picked up on his savvy and asked if he planned for future books to better describe the business of being a chef – the short answer is yes. I’m already mentally planning on getting his trio of books (Fire and the next two in the series as Kevin described them) for my brother in law who is an executive chef. (Good salesmanship, Kevin!)

Going back to the idea of being a business leader and partner coming from the Human Resources discipline, it is our role to see this bigger picture for our good, the good of our company, and the good of our profession. We are not just paper pushers that say no and hide behind a desk. We get out there, nourish talent to be the best it can be; look at the whole ecosystem of the company, industry, and economy to do the best possible for everyone. That is what being a real partner is and should be.