Analysis vs. Process

I’m currently reading a very nice book (so far) by Dan Heath called Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work, where I came across the following passage on analysis vs. process:

When the researchers compared whether process or analysis was more important in producing good decisions—those that increased revenues, profits, and market share—they found that “process mattered more than analysis—by a factor of six.” Often a good process led to better analysis—for instance, by ferreting out faulty logic. But the reverse was not true: “Superb analysis is useless unless the decision process gives it a fair hearing.”

I suppose this isn’t given enough attention is it? First time I read about something that didn’t praise analysis, Alleluia!

The thing about analysis is that it’s easy to say that you’ve analysed something, and so due diligence has been carried out, end of story.

And without a proper process in place, that’d be true. The process could just mean, you have a hypothesis (maybe to increase prices), and you want to see if it makes business sense, so you analyse what carrying out the action stated in the hypothesis might do (will increasing prices lead to higher revenues?)

You ask the analysis team (that’d be me) to model the possible scenarios. In scenario one it doesn’t make sense. So we tweak the numbers a little and come up with scenario two. Someone’s not happy with it, so we come up with scenario three. And so on until everyone’s happy with it, and the decision goes through.

But the decision was essentially made when the hypothesis was dreamt up. The moment it was brought up to be analysed there was no way back — there wasn’t a process in place to oppose the idea, and the longer the analysis went on the more involved everybody became. Just like how the legend can get bigger than the man, the idea can get bigger than the reality.

Here’s a great analogy, also from the book:

Imagine walking into a courtroom where the trial consists of a prosecutor presenting PowerPoint slides. In 20 pretty compelling charts, he demonstrates why the defendant is guilty. The judge then challenges some of the facts of the presentation, but the prosecutor has a good answer to every objection. So the judge decides, and the accused man is sentenced. That wouldn’t be due process, right? So if you would find this process shocking in a courtroom, why is it acceptable when you make an investment decision?

Now of course, this is an oversimplification, but this process is essentially the one most companies follow to make a decision. They have a team arguing only one side of the case. The team has a choice of what points it wants to make and what way it wants to make them. And it falls to the final decision maker to be both the challenger and the ultimate judge. Building a good decision-making process is largely ensuring that these flaws don’t happen.

My year in review: On Writing and on Being

As we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the next, I’ve started thinking about resolutions and how I might make 2014 different (and better!) from all the other years I’ve had (almost 30 now).

2013 hasn’t been the best. And though I wish I could say to you, “I won’t bore you with the details,” and that’s why I’m not telling you the details, it’s more of a I don’t know the details either but it just doesn’t feel like the best year I’ve had. And if it doesn’t feel like the best year, then it certainly wasn’t.

You ever heard of the NLP (neurolinguistic programming) saying that the meaning of your communication is the response you get (i.e. the success of whatever you communicate is dependent on the feedback of the receiver of that communication)?

Well, it’s like that. I could have the best bloody year of my life, but if in the end I didn’t feel like I’ve had the best bloody year of my life, then I didn’t have the best bloody year of my life.

What I can say though, is that the general idea behind those feelings is the thought that in 2013 I’d taken myself too seriously.

Maybe you could call it a quarter life crisis (thereabouts; not that I expect — or necessarily want — to live to a hundred and twenty), but there were many points in 2013 that I kept questioning my own motives; was filled with self-doubt; and maintained an extreme self-consciousness.

My usual joviality and punny nature couldn’t shine through, whether in person or on this site, where half-assed poetry and humour used to reign.

I’ve gotten serious and professional. Maybe that’s understandable if you knew I was looking to switch jobs in the earlier parts of this year and the later parts of the last. Maybe that’s understandable, if you knew I was trying to position myself as an expert in my analytics field.

But it’s not representative of who I am. I’m not a one-sided, analytics-crazy professional.

I’m an interested student of life who stands in awe of dramatic scenery; who reads and writes poetry; who loves reading puns as much as writing them; who reveres good art and philosophy; who digs science and appreciates the scientific method; who wishes he could play a musical instrument as well as he typed; who’s into fitness and running; and who just happens to be really into technology, business, and analytics, and is rather good at it.

If you were to take my last 30 posts on edonn.com you wouldn’t really know who I am. You’d get an overrepresentation of “professional” articles that talk about IT and science and business.

I’d read that niche blogs get more readers, and that more focused content gets more repeat visitors. I’d read that if you want to get hired you write articles that might interest your potential employers, and that writing “professionally” would help your personal brand.

I wanted more readers. I wanted to get hired. I wanted to help my brand. So that’s what I did.

Visitorship did go up a tad. And maybe what I’ve written does appeal to a certain audience. And maybe Study Group hired me based on eDonn.com (honestly, I don’t think so — pretty sure it was because of this advert).

But what I’ve found is that there was just so many things that I find interesting and/or that I really wanted to share but couldn’t because they just didn’t fit into the “theme” of analytics or big data, a theme that I thought would be better for the “image” of yours truly.

If I read that the glycemic index of sugar is lower than whole-wheat bread, I couldn’t share that if I could only post “analytics-focused” articles. Or if I read a killer poem like Shel Silverstein’s Masks that made me cry, I’d have to keep it for “personal use only”, telling only the people I know on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter, not the arbitrary bunch of people who stream in into edonn.com.

Not being able to share all I thought worth sharing has made me unhappy.

2013 has been an experiment in professional writing. In professional being. It’s been nice to have tried, but it isn’t necessarily good for me, I think. Haven’t been this unhappy for a long time.

2014 is going to have to be a year I take myself less seriously. A year of more fun. More puns. A year of less Serious Lee (seriously, get it?!), and more Donn Lee.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone.

Which has a higher Glycemic index: Sugar or Whole-wheat Bread?

If I’m asking, you probably already know the answer. It’s counterintuitive, it’s downright illogical, but whole-wheat bread, not sugar, causes a greater rise in blood sugar.

It blew my mind, but it’s one of those things that makes you rethink what you thought you knew, and makes you wonder what other self-evident truths you are wrong about.

From the fantastic book Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter:

When I give lectures to members of the medical community, one of my favorite slides is a photo of four common foods: (1) a slice of whole-wheat bread, (2) a Snickers bar, (3) a tablespoon of pure white sugar, and (4) a banana. I then ask the audience to guess which one produces the greatest surge in blood sugar—or which has the highest glycemic index (GI), a numerical rating that reflects a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular type of food. The glycemic index encompasses a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values given to foods that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. The reference point is pure glucose, which has a GI of 100.

Nine times out of ten, people pick the wrong food. No, it’s not the sugar (GI = 68), it’s not the candy bar (GI = 55), and it’s not the banana (GI = 54). It’s the whole-wheat bread at a whopping GI of 71, putting it on par with white bread (so much for thinking whole wheat is better than white). We’ve known for more than thirty years that wheat increases blood sugar more than table sugar, but we still somehow think that’s not possible. It seems counterintuitive. But it’s a fact that few foods produce as much of a surge in blood glucose as those made with wheat.

Grain Brain is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and one that has opened my mind to the many possibilities of nutrition and the impact of modern methods of food sourcing on our health. The couple of paragraphs I’ve highlighted above are just two of many mind-blowing, counterintuitive findings he has in store in the book, many lamenting our focus on carbohydrate-heavy and fat-light foods.

How the iPad has changed my reading habits, and how it hasn’t

For my birthday this year, my wife gave me an iPad Air (thank you!) Unbeknownst to me, this was to radically change my reading habits.

I am–perhaps was, now with the iPad–huge fan of libraries and bookstores: the smell of age-worn books, newspapers and old people; the sounds of teenagers and their gossipy tongues; and the pitter-patter thumping of little feet on carpeted wooden floors. Oh, and I suppose, the books themselves.

Ever since I got the iPad though, and downloaded both the iBooks and Kindle apps, I haven’t experienced the pull the libraries and bookstores used to have on me. Almost all my reading has been done on the iPad these past couple of weeks I’ve had it, and the only reason I got to bookstores is to get ideas on what book I should digitally procure next.

But one thing that I’ve noticed is that reading books on the iPad provides a slightly different experience. For some reason, it doesn’t gel with reading for pure fun or enjoyment.

 

I’ve had great success in moving most of my reading toward the iPad for non-fiction, business- and psychology-type books, but less so for the more fictional, narrative, or biographical- and travel-type books. On the former, what I’ve especially liked is the fact that I could highlight and add notes at will, adding a whole different dimension to my reading.

For some reason, when I’m on the iPad my mind races toward what I hope to get out of the book, as opposed to enjoying the book for what it is.

Metro Design

WordPress 3.8 has just been released, and it brings with it some rather significant aesthetic changes to the admin interface. While giving it a test drive, I realised how closely it resembled that of Windows Phone/8 (in terms of colours, fonts, and distinctive “flatness”).

For all their faults, Microsoft’s Metro interface is, to me at least, a pretty decent design philosophy. And if it wasn’t for the fact of having felt like a second-class citizen in terms of mobile app development while holding on to an Android device (it’s almost always iOS first), and not quite wanting to push myself further down the ranks, I’d have gotten a Windows Phone purely on the UI (user interface) itself.

It’s my guess that if there’s going to be a Web 3.0 interface, my feeling is that it’s going to be Metro (if it hasn’t happened already).

Zero-Growth and Non-commercial Insurance

Imagine if you were able to take, to accept, a world in which there was “zero growth”. What would its implications be?

Would it be undeniably negative?

I can imagine a world in which insurance is provided by friends and family, by community instead of commerce. If one needs help, one looks for one’s own, while if others need help we’ll do likewise.

The bond has to be strong though, like a fundamentalist religious bond or one forged out of shared experiences, lots of them. What better way to prove your commitment to a cause than lots of past evidence based on a continuous and unfailing determination to help push its agenda?

But I’m looking toward a secular bond, one free from religious baggage. One where what’s perceived is given greater import than what’s not.