Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The duck and the case of misleading statistics


A duck is the lowest score you can get in cricket - it means nought or zero.

No runs whatsoever.

If you get out for a duck you have 'failed to trouble the scorer'. If you get out first ball that is known as a 'golden duck'.

All cricketers fear the duck. Every batsman feels better when they 'get off the mark' and score a run. But every cricketer will, at some point have got a duck. Indeed, a duck is the most common score in cricket.

Why is this?

Why is it, indeed, that even the most successful batsmen of all score far more ducks than you would expect? Indeed, a duck is often the modescore for a batasman, even if they average over 50. One might reasonably expect a batsman's average score to be the same as his mode score. But that is not the case. Ducks are extraordinarily common.

All cricketers think they know why this is. They believe that it is easy to get out 'before you get your eye in'. They believe that the bowler has the advantage of surprise. What's more the bowlers' tails are up and they are feeling confident after dismissing a previous batsman. Batsman therefore seek to start cautiously and defensively.

But in fact this theory doesn't explain it. The answer lies in simple statistics. Every batsman starts on zero. However, as batsmen can score in singles, twos, threes, fours and sixes they do not always alight on other scores. Every innings starts at zero but far fewer innings ever hit 12 or 27 or 31. Or 99.

This is an example of how common views of behaviour and life are in fact false. And how our misunderstanding of statistics hinders our view of the world, and colours our decision making.

Friday, 17 April 2009

The box


I've just done a spring clean. That is, I went through every cupboard and drawer I have and ruthlessly threw out what I no longer needed.

I came across one box which was full of files with newspaper cuttings from the time I worked at the Foreign Office. It was astonishing the breadth and depth of these folders:

Economics
International relations
Media
Graduates
Tax
Developing countires
USA
International finance
Philosophy
Neuroscience
History

I could go on.

Two things struck me about this. Firstly, there's so much less excuse for clutter in the age of the internet.

Second, I think this symbolises many of the problems people have in choosing a fulfilling career. People graduate with the world at their feet. They feel they can do anything - and that's probably true. But, and this is the bit no one tells you, very often success depends on working out what your priority interests are.

Without doing that, we tend to drift from opportunity to opportunity and subject to subject without any real compass of what's really important.

The reality is that my box was a trap. I thought I was pursuing fulfilment, but in reality I was wasting time by not thinking carefully enough about what I truly wanted to do.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Telling your story


Why are CVs so difficult?

Having written, screened, read and advised on countless CVs in my life, I think the main problem is that they are...boring.

The reason for this is that a)people don't really know their own story, because b) they don't really know what story to tell. So they end up telling a boring non-story.

By comparison, this CV, whether you like it or not, tells a compelling story.

Stories are critical. They are how we communicate best, and what we tend to remember. They help our brains make sense of information. But we don't tend to think in these terms. Which is strange because soon, your story will be all that's left.

So, can you tell your story? Can you tell it in your CV? And, as an added discipline, can you summarise it into 8 words?

Whoever has the best story, wins. So get writing!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Personal Informatics


This new online-personal tool has been in the press quite a bit lately. We stumbled across it in the paper, and Howies mentioned it in their links (Which must mean its cool).

Personal informatics is the process of individuals logging and mapping their daily activity on the web. This sounds obsessive and several steps further than the 'info' page on one's Facebook, but I perhaps think it could be a reaction to the ever-increasingly competitive online social networking environment, or perhaps just a great way to keep track of your habits and spending in a recession.

I don't have the time or patience to log all my daily routines and what I've been consuming, but I sometimes find myself looking back to what I was doing a year ago today, or daydreaming into what my favourite meal in London was. Its just human nature to be retrospective, which is perhaps why this is taking off.

However, some informatics are easier to track than others, and one system which develops this is called happyfactor; an online tool which monitors your happiness by sending you text messages at intervals throughout the day, asking you to rate your happiness from 1-10. From this, happiness time lines can be mapped which tell you when during what day your happiest, and after what activities.

This is where we think it gets really exciting. Instead of mapping your life events for their own sake, how useful can this become in terms of mapping your psychological behaviour and reactions to certain stimuli? A psychological line can also be drawn between this and some cognitive behavioural techniques.

This is the guy who tracked everything for a year, and his graphical representations look amazing.

To get started, have a look at Daytum.