Scott Maxwell sums up 10 ways to lie with metrics. This is great advice for the political strivers and schemey backstabbers and a great antipattern for the readership of this blog. To summarize, here are his ten ways to lie when presenting data:
- Only present metrics that are positive. That’s why you collect all those metrics.
- Only present metrics that are easy to manage.
- Use many metrics.
- Be extremely precise with your numbers.
- Present quickly, drown ’em with data.
- Say "you don’t break down metrics" if they aren’t flattering to you.
- Put lipstick on that pig—apply lots of gloss to your charts. Hello, Crystal XCelsius!
- Show off your bona fides by sharing some metrics "off the cuff".
- Prep your team by feeding them lines.
- Your job isn’t to educate your audience about your metrics. If people don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s because they’re stupid.
This is a great list, and it’s hard to avoid committing some of this sins from time-to-time. I think the best tool to improve your honesty when presenting numbers is to respect the intelligence and good judgment of your audience.
This isn’t easy; we all have people who can drive us crazy, who can derail a presentation with niggling questions or who ask for information they’ll never use.
There is no magic bullet when presenting numbers. Your job is not merely to show a few columns of numbers, but to teach your colleagues what those numbers mean.
[Editors note: Read the comments! David has some timely additions to this list.]