Encouraging statistics 

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert


by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Looking at encouraging stabilizing statistics is like looking through the glass window of the oven when baking a soufflé. It may be holding, but with a little breeze it will still go puffffff and fall apart.

Be careful about using or interpreting encouraging statistics for the purpose of forecasting. If times are tough, statistics don’t help, a savior might. The 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season is predicted to be one of the most active on record. “C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show one never can tell”, according to an old popular song.

Some get in the jubilee mood when reading about progress and growth elsewhere. Those may be statistics of a different part of the industry or of the region. It simply doesn’t mean that the number of clients or visitors will increase automatically. And if one hopes to inevitably get ‘old’ clients back it only means that one is hoping for old levels to return.

With statistics one can tell a real truth with one half, while silencing the other half. This is mainly used for shielding the messenger from being negative, if not as bad as disastrous. Nevertheless, when this communication strategy is applied in business, it works like using a silencer on a gun; one won’t hear the shot, but it may be more lethal than just shooting oneself in the foot. Just be honest and reveal the complete picture even if it is tough. 

It is like the general telling his troops who were totally surrounded, “we now have the opportunity to attack the enemy in any direction” or like another 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”. Leaders don’t use misleading statistics; they make things actually move.

The economic slowdown over the past couple of years has accomplished a curious thing: some businesses and their management have learned to climb their way back up without a net. However, if things are still moving slowly after all those so-called ‘encouraging signs’, and they still don’t result in significant gains, it may be due to a W-shape recovery; It goes up and down. Predicting a W-shaped recovery is one step better than intelligent guessing.

First of all, don’t call things ‘encouraging’ unless growth is steady and more than 5% higher than a previous top year. And an investment is not an investment unless it yields more than 15% net. Anything else is pure hogwash. Everything above those numbers is good, anything less is not worth considering seriously unless one is doing it as a charity or looking for just something to keep one busy and spend some time.

Being a hardliner? No, just being realistic without distractions. One shouldn’t take on a project assignment unless those percentages were ballpark minima and preferably with higher expectations or else it may be like taking away resources off helplessly hoping victims. One hears about drug addicts saying that they want to be high, but realistic athletes and their coaches know exactly how high to set the bar that has to be jumped.

W-shaped recovery. In case you don’t know, the ‘W’ stands for Wiggly-WaggIy-Woo; some say Wicky-Wacky. It may be best explained by comparing these kinds of statistical movements with the traditional dancing lessons.  Think of the slow-quick-quick-slow Quick-Step. Two steps forward one step back is a better explanation of the W-recovery. It means one is still dancing and having fun yet moving slowly forward.

The reverse is one- step- forward and two- steps- back which means that one is also dancing and think you are having fun, but since one is going slowly but continuously backwards, one is likely either to lose the lead or to stumble backwards and end up lying on one’s back between the spectators and everyone but oneself is laughing. In dancing terms, it may be called a flip; in business terms it is definitely a flop. The two-steps-backwards, one-step-forward needs to be reversed by a full swing turn around, in dancing as well as in business.

Movers make things move. When one starts a new business, what counts is what is in the cash register at the end of the day. One works hard and gives it an all-out effort. Call it groundbreaking pioneership. As the business grows and it has to be handed over to professional management, that is where statistics are needed to prove results and progress. It is essential information for improving the business regardless of statistics either way; up or down. It is not about comparison with colleagues or competition; it is about outdoing them, working to get new business and also finding new ways to increase revenues.

The world is littered with statistics. So are most presentations that one sees at various conferences. Statistics do have a sort of magical appeal and are a bit like mathematical magic tricks, aren’t they? A sort of aphrodisiac for creating an appetite or for finding admiration. Statistics can be great conversation starters at conferences and are fun to baffle colleagues. Some people love to mention the half-empty-glass and the half-full-glass example and still think it is funny. Edgy a while ago, but  an old joke now. Six of something can sound either better or worse than half of dozen of something depending on where it’s applied.

This half-half stuff may be well mockingly explained by George Carlin, a five times Grammy Award winning stand-up comedian and social critic, who said about average persons: “Think about how stupid the average person is; now realize half of them are dumber than that.”