Driven by Data

Patty was wrapping up a few things before lunch. Her company, ACME, had just received a large order for the new Druid cellphone and she had responsibility to develop a scale up plan to assemble 3 million units a month.

ACME had received this contract by beating two assemblers from China. This win only was possible because of the work her team had done on the very high uptime lines. This high uptime allowed ACME to come in with a competitive quote that was more attractive than the Chinese companies. With the added advantage of not having to ship the Druids from China, and fewer IP (intellectual property) concerns, ACME got the contract. It was a major feather in her cap. But now she had to deliver.

The customer even had given her a new Druid phone. It was very impressive, but she wondered why they named it after such mystic people. Oh well, she thought, this just confirmed that she should not be in marketing.

As she was wrapping up, she checked her email. She saw an article on one of the online trade journals: Netbook Sales Are Crashing! Quick! Blame The iPad, Not The Lousy Netbooks! . She was curious, so she read it. The article began:

Well what do you know? Netbook growth is so low right now that in a recent report by NPD, Morgan Stanley Research lists last month’s growth as a negative number. That’s right, people are apparently selling the notebooks back or something. (Not really, but no one is buying netbooks right now).

Looking at the graph, she thought a more appropriate title would have been: “Despite launch of the iPad, netbook sales reach all-time high in July.” After finishing the brief article, she went off to lunch.

Patty was glad that, even after her promotion, her lunch friends still felt comfortable with her as part of their daily friendly ritual. As she approached the lunch table she heard Phil and Rob arguing.

“Rob, I’m telling you, I read it on line, Netbook sales have crashed, they have essentially gone to nothing almost overnight,” shouted Phil.

“But our plants in China are making just as many as they were in July,” Rob shot back. “I should know, its part of my job,” he finished.

“Patty, they are fighting again. Can you break them up?” Jan Curtis teasingly implored.

“Hey guys, what’s going on?” Patty asked.

“It’s your hubby again, he doesn’t recognize that an important part of his business is gone. I saw the graph,” Phil answered.

“I saw it too,” said Patty, “And, if you study it, I think the author was mistaken or misleading.”

Patty brought the article up on her new Druid phone. The resolution and size of the screen was so good that it was easy for everyone to read the graph and the article. She handed it to Phil.

“Phil, look at it closely and see if you don’t think the author made an error,” Patty said.

Phil looked at it for a few seconds and then became a little red in the face. He handed the Druid to Rob.

“Yikes, I’m embarrassed. It was the growth rate that tanked. The absolute sales only went down 4% in August. July was a record month,” groaned Phil.

The cell phone got passed around the table and everyone read the article.

Pete Wilkins summed it up, “Netbook sales may be down a little in August, but no data support their sales crashing. This might become the case in the future, but we can’t tell from the data provided.”

Epilogue: As Patty walked back to her office and settled into her chair, she once again looked at the article on her Druid.  What she saw caused here to just about drop the Druid.

The graph did not say “Netbook,” it said “Notebook.”

“Double yikes!” she thought. “The author not only got the numbers wrong, but got the product wrong.”  She followed the links to the source article and saw that the entire article was about notebooks, not netbooks!

Au. note: We should be data-driven in the decisions we make at work, at home and in our lives. Few things are as important. So I feel that it is helpful to point out the misleading nature of articles like the one referenced above.
Dr. Ron

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About Dr. Ron

Materials expert Dr. Ron Lasky is a professor of engineering and senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and senior technologist at Indium Corp. He has a Ph.D. in materials science from Cornell University, and is a prolific author and lecturer, having published more than 40 papers. He received the SMTA Founders Award in 2003.

2 thoughts on “Driven by Data

  1. AMEN!

    Getting valid data…
    or data gathered in an impartial way..
    or data even appropriate to the questions being asked ..
    .. is very hard to do!

    Every time I see an article in a newspaper…. reporting on an incident I have personal knowledge of..
    It ALWAYS contains at least one error in the facts… and generally numerous errors…
    And the title is often misleading …

    Magazines or other more thorough sources .. generally do a better job.
    I can see why.. they have more time to sort through the data.
    (or more time to distort the story to their liking ?)

    Which leaves me wondering why the general populace is constantly being polled for their opinion..
    Is it ….
    – to determine what their collective/informed opinions are?
    – to determine what degree of mis-information has become “fact” ?
    So much emotional content based on distorted “facts”…. sad really.

    How much of this is because of agenda, laziness, poor education, fast changing terminology/technology?

    I am sure there are people in the media .. that still don’t know the difference between a…
    – Netbook vs Notebook
    – Cell phone vs a Handset
    – Main frame vs a super computer
    reason: their definitions keep changing…

    People in the media.. should be held to a higher standard (knowledge) than the general public.
    And yet… understand their audience may not be aware of the changes, and communicate appropriately… with neutral bias…

  2. Then there are articles that are more or less identical but are “claimed” to be written by the author.
    How many “plights of the factory worker” articles have you seen or read in different periodicals that all claim to be the original.
    How many times has a value of X been presented at a conference and then picked picked up by the industry as a gospel truth? Wasn’t the whole lead free concern and pcb’s leaching into landfills based on bogus data?
    If X is a value then I want to measure it and see for myself.

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