When is an Open Floor Plan Good for Business?

Part 1 of 3

“Top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking referencing the Coding War Games study.

Many of us find open floor plans and shared workspace unpleasant. The noise, visual distractions, or that particularly pungent lunch can be oppressive. Others love it. The chit chat, bonding, and the ability to get a quick answer to your question just by turning around and saying, “Hey Phil…” can be wonderful. My company is one of the few left with private offices, and we’re quickly moving to open floor. This made me wonder if the quote above is right. Regardless of how we feel about working in an open floor plan, is it good business?

My story

Mostly I was fine in my first open floor plan. Admittedly, there was that poor guy with terrible allergies during cottonwood season — he made me want to tear my ears off. Otherwise I enjoyed it. The job was mind-numbingly routine so the easy chit-chat around the room was a welcome break. Sometimes I wished I could get a quiet space to really crank some work out, but I had limited patience when the managers told us to keep the noise down. People were complaining they couldn’t focus. I’m a deep introvert and I could get my work done just fine. How boring it would be if we all worked in hushed whispers like a library!

Later in my career I minded open floor plans very much. I got my PMP certification, worked in an array of temporary spaces as a consultant, then came back to a large open floor-plan as a Scrum Master. My role demanded I be in the office. Due to underbidding on fixed bid contracts, our projects were on the rocks and over budget, often by a lot. As a very small shop we couldn’t afford that. People there were friendly with good hearts, but often said some hurtful things under stress without realizing it. I had big problems I was trying to manage. I was no longer doing simple repetitive work. If I was going to help our projects succeed I needed to think and I needed to be persuasive. Mostly I sat in a space that was essentially the hallway to the kitchen, with my back to traffic. Near the end I remember beautiful spring mornings driving the hour to work listening to calm feel-good radio plays. I’d park, turn the play off, and spend the next ten minutes telling myself to go inside.

Why did I have such wildly different reactions to essentially the same space? This year the tidal wave of transition to open floor plan got very close to me. I panicked. I’ve had the privilege of an office of my own for a few years. I couldn’t imagine trying to focus without the privacy and freedom from distraction. I researched everything I could find online about whether open floor plan really works, why companies embrace it, and what to do about it.

This is the first of three posts to answer these questions.

When is open floor plan good for business? Does it really work?

For the most part open floor plans perform poorly due to lack of privacy, noise and visual distractions, absenteeism due to increased illness and for some, stress from overstimulation. There’s many articles and studies on this. Links to a few of my favorites below.

So why do companies embrace open floor plan?

Help on demand

What about improved collaboration like the ‘hey Phil’ effect I mention above? There’s a study for that too.

Participants who requested help with a task performed better, while those who supplied assistance did worse. Frequently alternating between helping others and doing one’s own job imposes a heavy “cognitive load,” the scientists concluded, as the help givers are forced to repeatedly reacquaint themselves with the details of their own task.

Collaboration and innovation

OK, but many people think open floor plans create a more collaborative and innovative environment, and informal chance encounters improve performance. I’ve certainly had moments where a casual conversation has sparked an idea, but this article implies that there’s no upper limit to this effect. The more chance encounters, the better everyone performs.

Content: More conversations about Phil’s dog

If that’s true, what about my second open floor plan experience? I had lots of chance encounters. Shouldn’t that have made all the projects more successful? A sentence later in the same article gave me a clue. “We don’t measure the content of interactions, but that doesn’t matter. When collisions occur, regardless of their content, improvement typically follows.”

That didn’t seem right. Doesn’t content matter? If I’m having a conversation about Phil’s dog is that just as productive as a deep-dive into capabilities of the tool he runs? Another Harvard Business Review article Who Moved My Cube? reinforced that “employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.” So, more conversations about Phil’s dog.

Millennials love it

The Open Office Trap helped me understand why so many people think open floor plans inspire collaboration and innovation. The article mentions a review of over one hundred studies found that open floor plan can create a “sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise.” From another 2012 study on younger workers: “open space resulted in a sense of camaraderie; they valued the time spent socializing with coworkers, whom they often saw as friends.” and “young employees found certain types of noises, such as conversations and laughter, just as distracting as their older counterparts did.” Millennials find open floor plan just as distracting as older workers, they just enjoy it more.

That reminds me of my first open-office experience. I certainly felt more connection to my co-workers. For some of us, camaraderie feels like productivity. We can look back on a satisfying day of happy connection and bonding and feel like there was a lot of productive collaboration when, in fact, the distractions and lack of privacy damage “attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”

This also gave me another clue about why I liked my first open floor plan job, and hated my most recent. My first job required very little real focus or attention. I was doing what Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: the Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World calls “Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style task, often performed while distracted.” That first job didn’t require much thought or attention, so distractions weren’t really a problem for my productivity.

Data driven decisions and the metrics black hole

Newport coins the phrase “metrics black hole” to describe how the more complex knowledge work is, the harder it becomes to measure the value of a single person’s work. As companies push to make data-driven business decisions they need to weigh things that are easy to measure against things that are difficult. When considering open floor plan, measuring the financial value of productivity is difficult. Measuring the cost savings of reduced facilities and floorspace needs is easy and compelling. Geoffrey James in this LinkedIn post tries to create a metrics argument for productivity, but that could be very difficult to ‘sell’ in a boardroom or senior leadership meeting against data on big cost savings.

Wow. So does all this mean private offices are the perfect working environment and anyone working in an open floor plan is doomed to distraction and poor productivity? I don’t completely agree with Newport when he calls open office “depth-destroying”. I know from first-hand experience it can be, but a little bit of thought, planning, and modest investment can make all the difference.

The key seems to be about providing autonomy and balance between focus work and collaborative work. The best solution combines ideas from Who Moved My Cube? “The most effective spaces bring people together and remove barriers while also providing sufficient privacy that people don’t fear being overheard or interrupted. In addition, they reinforce permission to convene and speak freely.” with the recommendation that workers set aside a block of time each day when they are not to be disturbed. Newport proposes “soundproofed offices connected to large common areas” to support innovation through “both serendipitous encounter and isolated deep thinking”. I agree that this architecture will work, but quiet focus space doesn’t have to be a traditional personal office. Regardless of the core arrangement, information workers should have space and permission for:

  1. Quiet distraction-free focus for several hours
  2. Deep collaboration in privacy
  3. Informal casual chance encounters

Next: How workers can make open floor plans more productive.

Sources

Articles

The Open-Office Trap

How to Stay Productive In an Open Working Environment

Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.

Who Moved my Cube?

Studies

Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices

The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control

Stress and open-office noise

The Privacy Crisis: Taking a Toll on Employee Engagement

Sickness absence associated with shared and open-plan offices–a national cross sectional questionnaire survey.

Privacy at Work: Architectural Correlates of Job Satisfaction and Job Performance

Work-Back Schedules, or Magic Has A Price

“All magic comes with a price, dearie.” Rumplestiltskin

In ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Robert Carlyle’s character regularly reminds other characters that “magic has a price”, one action coming at the cost of another. I was thinking of this as someone asked for a work-back schedule, and had nearly titled this article with a Star Wars quote instead: “It’s a trap!”

A work-back schedule, before a project is even planned, is meant as a requirement or constraint. “After this date, the project has diminished or no utility, therefore this is a constraint.” Constraints are planned for. If you must have a thing by a certain date, other things like scope and cost will change. All magic has a price.

Work-backs, however, are often used as project traps. Consider the scenario: You have a fixed number of resources, not flexible in the short term (say three months). In brainstorming, the team has dreamed up some scope, which is to say aspirational deliverables that provide utility. Now comes the trap. Leadership looks at the scope and says, “Hey, looks great – I have to have this in three months, give me a work-back schedule to deliver all that scope.”

See what happened there? A project constraint was introduced, but hasn’t yet been accounted for. Instead, an expectation was created. The job of the project manager is to manage that expectation. “Oh, good to know that requirement – let me talk with the team and work out what can be delivered with quality in that time frame, and let’s review after.” While a wise leader will understand, some will reply with, “Oh, just give me a back-of-the-envelope estimate, I won’t hold you to it.” Don’t give into the temptation of telling someone what they want to hear because it’s easiest. The price of doing this is project failure, because it is nearly inevitable that stakeholder expectations will not be met. “I won’t hold you to it” is just the bait for the trap. Once the jaws close, you’ll be held to that estimate. The only way to successfully navigate this is to use the situation as an opportunity to gather stakeholder requirements.

It seldom works to say, “No, but…”, since people stop listening when they hear “No.” Instead, “Yes, and…” tends to work better. People have problems, projects exist to resolve them. Project managers exist to orchestrate solving problems. To solve a problem, it’s important to fully understand it. Rather than complying to an early schedule demand, a bit of magician’s misdirection will help get things on the right path, “But of course! Of the deliverables you see here, can you help me understand which are the most important to you?” Answering questions with questions also works. “When can I have this?” can be answered with “which of these is highest priority?” There’s also the truth, “Any schedule I propose at this point would not be based on data, and therefore not realistic – help me better understand so we can get you the results you want.” Understanding requirements and constraints is essential to designing the right solution. Knowing how the stakeholder processes information will let you use the correct approach to gather requirements and understand constraints.

Once upon a time, you may have faced this situation – but if you didn’t before, now you understand the price of magic.

The Business of Privacy

University economics classes provided me with some great terms, like “negative externalities”. A negative externality is a cost suffered by a third party to a transaction. Group A is producing widgets for Group B, but dumps expensive-to-clean up waste into a river of drinking water that Group C uses. Group A produces for a lesser expense, Group B gets the benefit of that production, but Group C bears the cost. That’s a negative externality.

There’s two basic ways we, as a society, deal with those issues. We can accept them, or we can seek government intervention. The basics of a business education suggests that government exists to provide a framework and level playing field for market participants. Government is the only entity with coercive powers. In the United States, this power is expressed through both legislation and the court system. Either can impose penalties for failure to live up to standards. Regulation isn’t “bad” or “good”, it just changes incentives for different parties, hopefully resulting in fairer outcomes for all stakeholders.

It is understandable how Equifax, as a company, had loose controls. There is a constant drive to reduce IT costs, even for companies in the business of information. Do more with less can strip IT departments of both personnel and knowledge in a race to the bottom; do enough, and just enough, to conduct business and no more. In all, Equifax had few incentives to be responsible in a data breach that affected nearly every adult citizen of the United States. The current environment has been favorable to deregulation of business. Third parties, which includes every person who had their personal data exposed, have no power and were therefore not considered when making company choices. While this is understandable, it is not acceptable.

My interest in privacy and security is rooted in my interest in ethics, and I want to inspire you to share that interest. Business leaders must be responsible and accountable for the actions of the organizations they lead, and we must give our people and projects an ethical framework to do business in. It is essential that we be good corporate citizens, and live up to the trust that society has placed in us.

Celebrate Success

I mentioned in an earlier post that it was important to celebrate success. It provides closure for a project, and can be a bonding experience for a team that might disperse to other projects.

Ship gifts are a traditional thing. My brother got this cool leather jacket from the Windows division years ago which he still wears. Most ship gifts, though, aren’t quite that nifty. Mind you, I’ve kept them all just the same, much to Hermione’s annoyance.


Now, I never served, but I do know what a challenge coin is. After having gone through three v1 cloud product releases with this same team, this is actually my favorite ship gift. It was a lot of hard work, and a good way to end one journey and start another. You were in Azure?  Heck, yeah, I was in Azure and look at what we did!

Third Time’s a Charm

Femme Hai Le Grand Requin Blanc

Thrice repeated, once fulfilled. Or, at least, that’s how I remember that going. In line with my goals to talk about the industry and environment, I feel compelled to talk about things like this. I’ve seen many articles about harassment online, bleeding over into real life and the workplace (tough read, language). It’s been going on for some time. It isn’t unique. It’s still going on. It’s not just in technology. The crisis of inclusion is everywhere, in no small part to industry and individual attitude. And this is my third post on the topic.

Industry leaders agree that inclusiveness is important, but it is essential that this message be carried to every level of every organization. We all need to be part of the solution. Once again, to quote Lieutenant General David Morrison, retired, “By now I assume you know my attitude to this type of conduct” and “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” Don’t accept bullying or harassment. Demand a higher standard, and accept nothing less.

Manage your Mythology

It’s no secret that Bioware’s 2003 Knights of the Old Republic renewed my interest in Star Wars. My office contains a tasteful collection of photos and memorabilia. It surprises coworkers who visit for the first time, breaking the ice, and often starts a conversation. People will smile, and tell me a story. I’ve learned a lot of things that way. One coworker reflected on how he loved Star Wars as a child, and was thrilled to share it with his own children who likewise loved it. Another coworker’s daughter has a ForceFX lightsaber – I know, since her dad liked mine and bought a boxed one from my collection as a present. A young coworker from China was a fan of Star Wars, and is now my friend, because of our mutual journey “to be Jedi, not dirt-farmers on Tatooine.” My office serves a purpose, putting people at ease and giving us something common to relate to.

In the days when my company was occasionally referred to as “the evil Empire”, everyone recognized my tiny super-charged sports car:

That was both good and bad. Image has both connotations and complexity. The license plate was a good display of humor and an interesting talking point (“You’re Darth Loren? Wow, I was expecting someone taller!”), but also associated with, literally, the Most Awful Guy in the Galaxy. Should everyone’s first impression be that they’re going to be subject to “aggressive negotiations”? No, better to be known a Jedi Knight who was revered for restraint, wisdom and dedication. That’s the sort of person people want to work with. It’s not just what you’ve done, it’s what people think you’ve done.

That transformation took time. The company changed, I changed with it. I learned and grew. I sold that car, but it took time for people to forget SITHLRD, and see THEJEDI instead. That’s why I titled this article “Manage your Mythology.” You need to be thinking of the image you put forth, and how your actions influence perception. It’s not just the story you tell, but the stories that are told about you.

Consider, do you always say what you’ll do, and then do what you said? Do you honor agreements you’ve made, even when it turns out they disadvantage you? Are you helpful, willing to go the extra mile to lend a hand or freely offer knowledge that might assist? Do you do simple things, like smile and say hello at the coffee station? Contrast that striding into a room in black armor, announcing that you are there to get things back on schedule! Yup, that makes a lasting impression; nope, it’s not the reputation you want to have.

So here are some tips and thoughts about managing your mythology:

As you tell your story to others, something I was told to consider was to the effect of, “will you get caught out and will anyone care?” By this, it’s meant you are welcome to tighten and brighten your story, but it should be true. Consider “my friend Sue and I got ice cream, and you can’t imagine what happened next!…” Well, Joe was there, too, but he’s not part of the story. Will anyone care? Probably not. Contrast that to Milli Vanilli controversy. That had to be pretty humiliating, but was entirely preventable. Never lay claim to things you didn’t do, and correct misconceptions quickly before they snowball.

ABCD – Always Be Continuously Discovering. There are so many interesting things in the world. Learn. Grow. Follow your passions. Pick up new skills. Share your knowledge. If you find something you’re interested in, learn about it. The more you are curious, the more you discover and the more interesting you are. Maybe you have an interest in construction. That can lead to new opportunities for you, and new stories about you. “Hey, yeah, I know Jeff – we volunteered together building houses for the homeless! Great guy!”

Recognize and thank people for their contributions. I would like to sincerely thank you for reading this article. I am passionate about project management and mentoring. I am thrilled that you are seeing these words. Thank you. I appreciate your support.

Networking is important. Aside from myths about LinkedIn and some ideas on how to use it, two things to consider. First, be interested in someone else’s story. You never know what interesting thing you might learn. For example, I’m a licensed bartender. Bet you didn’t see that one coming – and it’s true! 🙂 Second, just like interviewing, it’s never about what someone can do for you – it’s always about what you can do for them. Did you find out someone has teenager who plays guitar? Do you know the owner of Seattle’s greatest guitar store? Maybe there’s a connection here!

The internet never forgets. I searched myself and found a letter I’d written to PC Magazine when I was maybe fourteen years old. FOURTEEN. People have destroyed their careers over errant Twitter comments. Or doing questionable things during a conference. The world has changed. If you’d be embarrassed to have something on the front page of the New York Times, don’t do it and definitely don’t publish it. Always be on your best behavior, always be just and ethical. It’s important because you never know when something is being recorded for the world to see.

Be positive. Learn how.

Some people will call all this “managing your brand”. That’s legitimate, but a “brand” doesn’t resonate with people. A story will. Components of that story are your professional image. CBS has a good article on that. Here’s another from Forbes. And another two articles, one here and one here, on managing image. The image you project, the things that you do, become a “brand”, and that brand comes alive in the stories you and others will tell about you.

Neil Gaiman has spoken about the importance of stories. Once we are gone, stories are all that remain. Make sure that you not only tell good stories, but that good stories are told about you. Manage your mythology.

Harassment

I actively support a corporate culture of inclusiveness and respect, and have no tolerance for bullying or harassment in the workplace. Work, however, is only a portion of people’s lives. Technology is all around us, and the internet can be a source of  suffering. If you, or anyone you know, needs assistance, RAINN has resources to help. No one is alone.

Privacy and Projects

“Scientia potentia est.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sir John Dalberg-Acton

Knowledge is power, power corrupts.

Economics classes point out that information is needed for rational decision making, and rational decisions result in the efficient allocation of resources. What happens, though, when one party has information that the other doesn’t? Suppose you bought a house that the owner knew had toxic mold problems but failed to disclose? The seller walked away with more money than would have been possible had information been disclosed, not only an inefficient solution, but one that most people would label unfair. No one would willingly pay more than something is worth to them. Knowledge is power.

The power of private and personal information has been used to impact lives all over the world. It isn’t just a potential. The United States Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork was upended by his video rental history. Identity theft cost the US $15B in 2014 and 700,000 stolen tax returns in 2015. In World War II and elsewhere, information cost lives.

Privacy matters.

You, your projects, and your company must take privacy into account. This is an article on basic principles. There are also numerous articles to help convince a team that privacy matters. For example, this one on LinkedIn, this one from Santa Clara University, this one from The Atlantic, or this one on a blog. There are resources available from the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Privacy is an ethical obligation. Even if it wasn’t, consider the sanctions that can be levied by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation laws for failing to meet requirements.

Remember, information you don’t have, you can’t be forced to disclose or accidentally leak. Information you have, you also have an obligation to secure and protect. When you collect it, you must state for what purposes you will use it and then comply with that statement. Information belongs to the individual, and it’s their right to ask for it to be corrected or deleted. It’s really just that simple.

This article started with two quotes, and finishes with another:

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” Catherine Aird

 

Never Miss a Date!

You can make every software development project successful.

Interested?

Ready?

Here’s the secret: Apply PMI’s project management knowledge areas.

It’s that simple.

I’ve been in software development since before high school, and have seen every type of success and failure imaginable. Maybe your project isn’t year-long, involving 200 people across many countries with a budget of a hundred million dollars. Maybe it’s five developers in a basement for a couple of months. I don’t know the particulars of your situation, so I couldn’t do the business analysis necessary to suggest one development methodology over another. Instead, I’m suggesting that the application of knowledge will make your projects better in general. If you understand these knowledge areas, and understand them well, you will understand what trade-offs you are making in your process and projects. That will enable you to better direct your projects to successful outcomes, regardless of the size of your project or development methodology you choose.

In order, the top ten reasons for failure, in order of importance:

  1. Communication Management – Three articles on communication so far. That wasn’t an accident. Projects, first and foremost, live or die by communication.
  2. Risk Management – The solution has been architected, coding has progressed, things are looking good, however the implementation can’t be stabilized. Review indicates a different architecture must be chosen. The schedule is blown, the budget is gone, the project fails. The qualification and quantification of uncertainty is what risk management is about. Every project I’ve seen that failed to “make its dates” had no risk management strategy. It’s not only identifying risks, it’s actively communicating and managing them in a timely manner. A good risk plan will save a project by stating what conditions it will trigger and how act appropriately to manage the impact. Think of it as carrying an extra set of batteries for when you take photos on vacation. Batteries die? No problem! You have another set. Yup, it cost a little money – but documenting your vacation experience is priceless.
  3. Time Management – The usual cycle is for managers to look for estimates, wring every bit of “buffer” out of estimates (the estimator’s attempt to manage uncertainty, which is to say risk), then create a ship date. Has this ever produced an on-time project? Not that I’ve seen. A schedule is a map of the project. It contains all activities (scope), resources to complete (cost), and when those resources need to do the work (time). Failure to create a realistic schedule, then failure to manage against it, cause project failures.
  4. Integration Management – This failure happens on two dimensions. The first is the organization’s leadership doesn’t believe that they need any project management, so either fails to have a project manager or fails to listen to an experienced project manager. The second version of this failure is assigning a project manager who doesn’t have the knowledge or skills to do the job. “You’re great at laying bricks, Bob – we’d like you to manage the construction of our next building.” Unfortunately, Bob is great at bricks, but doesn’t know anything about monitoring and controlling a project.
  5. Scope Management – As the project progresses on an agreed plan, things get added – hey, it should be a simple fix to allow users to change background colors, right? Sure! Scope is everything you’re going to do, and, inversely, everything you’re not going to do. Poor change control, along with an unwillingness to adjust either schedule or cost baselines, results in failed development projects. Every accepted change changes the whole project; have a change control process. Reject scope when appropriate, or accept and re-plan other aspects of the project.
  6. Stakeholder Management – The project was completed in record time, and is ready for implementation. The IT director is assigned the job of deployment and says, “Hey, wait – this won’t work. Half our users are only intermittently connected!” There are basic questions for the start of every project: Were all the stakeholders enumerated? Where their needs and requirements considered? What is the urgency of solution delivery? Failures in this area causes work products to be rejected. Scrum tries to control for this with a product owner who is the source of requirements, but also assumes the product owner has done the right business analysis and thoroughly understands all other stakeholders. If the product owner isn’t a business analyst, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  7. Cost Management – A project merrily moves along, assuming full dedication of all personnel. The reality is that developers are often assigned to many different projects. Managers often fail to account for that and consequently over-allocate developers. Part of that is failure to account for the productivity loss in context switching. Also, managers wrongly assume their project is top priority. Just because it is important to YOUR career doesn’t mean it’s important to someone else’s! Adding more developers doesn’t necessarily mean a project gets done quicker, even if those developers are more senior. As the number of people go up, more work is lost to the “friction” of working cooperatively.
  8. Quality Management – Yup, we wrote a lot of code. Too bad it doesn’t work in integration. Guess we should have planned for that. A quality acceptance plan is important to ensure a development project meets the goals that are set out for it. It can also be a check against gold-plating.
  9. Procurement Management – Okay, okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: Manager throws out an RFQ, picks the lowest quote, and three months later gets something that doesn’t remotely resemble what was expected. There’s a whole process for managing procurement properly. Not every project has a procurement component, but if one does, it is essential to manage it properly.
  10. Human Resource Management – Each part of this list has started with a dreary failure. Instead, let’s talk about success. A couple years ago, Avengers was a popular movie. I held a “bug smash” (“bash” == “finding”, “smash” == “fixing/resolving”) for one of my teams. It was Hulk-themed, as in “HULK SMASH!” A twice daily report went out recapping the contest, morning and night, for a week. We gave out $50 gift cards along with Hulk-themed prizes for most bugs, most severe bugs, most code reviews completed and most helpful as nominated by peers. It was the most fun we’d had all summer and a good team building exercise. Be a source of motivation and inspiration, and celebrate success with your team.

There you have it – your spell book for success. Go study, then be successful.

Numerical Nonsense

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review

It wasn’t actually Disraeli, but numbers are persuasive. If I said, 68.7% of statistics are deceptively presented, that sounds pretty authoritative, doesn’t it? It’s also completely made up. That’s an egregious example, but one of the first uses that occurs to any student of statistics is misuse. For a clear view of what that looks like, head over to Math With Bad Drawings’ article “Why Not to Trust Statistics.”

There’s two messages here. First, as a consumer of statistics (the language of business), understand numbers and question them. Know how the information was gathered, how it was summarized and why it was presented as it was. Remember that correlation does not imply causation. Second, as a producer of statistics, you are ethically bound to represent information in an unbiased fashion. Manipulating math to use a “magician’s force” on a decision is unethical.