Monday, October 23, 2006


People like glib phrases like "It'll be alright on the night" or "We are going to be 110% in on this one". However, the problem with just saying stuff is that it doesn't give the bean counters any sense of proportion. Moreover, people trust numbers, even though they don't truly understand them, and even though a number is an abstract entity.

For example, if we said that crossing the street, according to a survey of 1000 people, proved to be 99.9% safe, people would be thrilled. That's brilliant. That's a great statistic, unless you happen to be the parents of the child who got killed in order to make the 0.1% of the group. Those parents would feel like the road probably needed the zebra crossing after all, and that the 999 other people were just lucky. In truth numbers mean little.

However, some statistics are researched and do genuinely reflect something of value. Those statistics are seldom much use to us unless they happen to agree with what we wanted to prove in the first place, whether they're directly relevant to us or not. However, there is a discipline called sweetistics. This is, essentially, putting a numeric quantity on things which we've not researched in order to allow us to form convenient aphorisms, related to those numbers, which look like absolute science BECAUSE they have numbers in them.

  • The 80-20 rule - 80% of the something is bigger than the 20% of that same thing which would otherwise cause 80% of another thing to be spent, even though it's not worth it for 20%.
  • Pairing - with double the people doing half the work, then half the people can achieve more than twice as much as they would otherwise have done.
  • Refactoring - the extra effort spent on the redoing of the work, as a constant - C - can avoid the extra effort required at some later stage - S - rising exponetially (which we all know is bad)

Sweetistics always feel nice when you taste them, but like real sweets, they cloud the mind and the effect soon wears off. Use liberally.


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