A family on a trip to the Museum of Natural History comes across a display of a particularly interesting dinosaur. The massive beast is displayed in an impressive pose – standing on it’s muscular back legs, mouth agape, razor-sharp teeth fully bared.

As the family stands admiring the display, a museum docent approaches. “Impressive, isn’t she?” the docent asks. Each member of the family concurs, and the docent continues, “This dinosaur is 60,000,038 years old.”

“How is that possible?” asks mom. “How could you know the age so exactly?” “Simple,” replies the docent, “when I started working here they told me the dinosaur was 60 million years old. That was 38 years ago.”

Ridiculous? Of course! But how often do we do the same thing in business – treating a number that is no more than an approximation as though it were an absolute and perfectly accurate figure? Anyone who has worked with corporate data knows how much estimation and approximation gets entered into any system, and of course there is human error to account for, and omission.

Sure, those of us who are comfortable with data and accounting know that the numbers are estimates, that we are making approximations upon approximations upon approximations. But Numberphobes don’t understand that. They see detail down to the penny in the annual budget projection and they think that we know something that they don’t, that we are some sort of superhuman being with secret accounting knowledge that allows us to see into the future.

So ditch your decimals if you want to get Numberphobes to look at your report. By eliminating some of that needless detail you’ll be able to more effectively communicate your data to those members of you organization who hate numbers.

 

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