The Rise and Fall of Nate Silver: A Lesson in Risk Communication

ThinkstockPhotos-543817436.jpgPolitical prognosticator and analytics guru Nate Silver rose to national fame by correctly predicting elections. But in 2016, Silver joined almost every other analyst by projecting a victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Was Silver’s good luck over?

Cognitive Bias and the “Failure” of Data

Actually, Silver’s estimate for the 2016 election was closer to correct than almost anyone else’s. He saw Clinton as a heavy favorite, but still gave Donald Trump a roughly one-in-three shot of winning. But the world didn’t remember that part of the projection once the election results came in. They just remembered the part Silver got wrong.  Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has an explanation: cognitive bias.

Kahneman studied how people make decisions and judgments, and he quickly discovered that they don’t make any sense. People like to think of themselves as logical and rational, but they mostly use logic to justify believing whatever they want to believe anyway. And one thing people absolutely love to believe is that the future is certain. Human minds loathe uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear—sometimes paralyzing fear. So when given a number like “one in three” or “ninety percent,” they subconsciously convert the odds to “yes” or “no.”

This cognitive bias is often very useful. You probably never consider the statistical chance that you’ll be run over by a bus because if you did, you might never leave the house. It’s far easier, and probably mentally healthier, to treat the risk of bus accidents as a 0. But the tendency to round probabilities up or down can be disastrous in the business world.

Communicating Risk

Have you told your boss that there’s a 90% chance you’ll make the sale? If the deal didn’t go through, you were probably in a bit of hot water. Has a supplier ever told you her product’s failure rate was less than 1%? You’d probably be pretty mad if your order was a dud. The problem with both of those statements of probability is that they do a poor job of communicating risk. They invite the mind’s cognitive bias to take over and convert the estimate into a certainty. When that certainty turns out not to be so certain, it feels like a broken promise.

That’s why the world decided Nate Silver was wrong. They had rounded up the probability of a Clinton victory to a guarantee. When Trump won, it felt like Silver had broken his word. His failure wasn’t in the data—it was in the way he communicated the risk.

The lesson here is that quoting numbers won’t save you. Don’t just toss out percentages—put them in context. Visualizations are one useful technique. If a product will fail one time in a hundred, a graphic with 99 white shapes and one black shape gets the message across far more effectively than the numbers. Analogies are also effective. A 90% probability? That’s about the same as the chance that an NFL kicker will make a 32-yard field goal. Anchoring the numbers to a familiar context creates a lasting impression. It forces the mind to acknowledge uncertainty.

In business and life, people care about honesty. But if your goal is to be trustworthy, it’s not enough to state the facts. You have to make those facts sink into others’ minds. When it comes to probabilities and risks, that task is taller than it looks.

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Learn How to Communicate on a Case-by-Case Basis for Better Results

_ThinkstockPhotos-76756624.jpgTo say that communication is important in the workplace is an understatement. This is true regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in. One study from McKinsey Global Institute found that not only does active communication bring people closer together in the workplace but in these types of situations productivity tends to improve between 20% and 25% on average.

At the same time, there is no “silver bullet” method to communication that will instantly get everyone on the same page. Only by looking to your employees as individuals, and playing to their own individual strengths and preferences, will you finally be able to see the communication gains that you so richly deserve.

Let the Employee Be Your Guide

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that communication no longer means face-to-face conversations, -or at least it doesn’t exclusively. This is particularly the case regarding introverted employees, a staple at any organization.

Just because Ryan from Accounting doesn’t like to speak up in meetings doesn’t mean that he lacks communication skills. It just means that speaking in front of a group isn’t necessarily his forte. Instead of trying to force Ryan to adapt to your wishes, consider how Ryan would prefer to communicate.

Emails, memos, texting, one-on-one meetings, phone calls: these are all viable options regarding getting ideas across in the modern era. As a business leader, it’s not your job to get everyone to communicate the way you want to just because you prefer looking someone in the eyes when you tell them what they need to do next. It’s your job to make a note of the conditions that a person excels under and then do whatever you can to facilitate those needs whenever possible.

The Larger Implications of Communication

Consider the fact that according to one survey, an incredible 46% of employees said that they “rarely, if ever” leave a meeting knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This is the danger of a “one size fits all” approach to communication. You end up becoming something of a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

One study revealed that 26% of employees think email is a major productivity killer. But when you reverse that, it means that 74% of employees think email is just fine. But it’s important not to create an “either/or” situation where one doesn’t have to exist. If you know that Robert is going to get the information he needs from an email, send away. If you know that Brenda is the type of employee who needs to sit down and talk out her next objective in person, be sure you make time for her in your schedule.

It’s up to you to find the right communication method that works for the individual so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to contributing to the whole. 

It’s important to remember that according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of employees in the United States said that they just weren’t engaged in work anymore. Creating an environment of open and honest communication is one of the keys to combating this issue head on. But you must also remember that no two employees are created equally.  An approach that works great for getting one employee to open up and become engaged in their work may be woefully inadequate for the next.

Only by making an effort to communicate on a case-by-case basis will you be able to generate a workplace where success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

Communicate Faster

AN IMPORTANT SKILL FOR SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS

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Keyboarding has become an important skill for social and professional communications. The faster and more accurately you can type, the better you can communicate with your audience.

If you’re not feeling up to speed on a keyboard, here are a few ways to improve your typing skills:

  • Place your hands properly on the keyboard. Your fingers on your left hand should be on A, S, D, and F. The fingers on your right hand should be on H, J, K, and L.
  • Once you are comfortable knowing key placement, avoid looking at the keyboard. This prevents you from editing your copy in real-time, which means more mistakes and wasted time editing later.
  • Chat with family or friends to have fun while learning to type. Programs such as Skype can help you not only keep in contact with others but also help fine tune your typing skills.
  • Check out free online typing resources, such as www.typing.com. It is a great learning tool for all ages and levels.
  • Consider online typing games that make learning more manageable. While many popular resources are designed for children, they can be used for any age to learn typing skills one step at a time. Qwerty Warriors is a fun example.
  • Once you have become more comfortable in your typing skills, test yourself often to improve the speed of your communication. Check out this free tool on Live Chat.

As with everything, practice makes perfect. The more you type, the more familiar you will become with the position of the keys. If you’d like help creating a newsletter or other marketing materials to increase communications with your audience, give us a call today at 856.429.0715!

Why You Should Never Cut Corners in the World of Print Marketing

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In business, to say that you should make every dollar count is an understatement. When dealing with uncertain economic times, budgeting decisions matter a great deal. Improving your profit margins and increasing your bottom line is always a top priority, which is why the instinct to try to cut corners to save a few dollars here and there is a natural one.

It’s also an instinct that you would do well to fight, especially when it comes to your print marketing.

Marketing is About Communication and Communication Matters

People who feel like it’s okay to cut corners with their print marketing are probably not understanding what their marketing collateral is supposed to do. If you look at a flyer or another piece of print material as only an information exchange, things like paper stock and print quality probably aren’t going to be high on your list of priorities.

However, those things should make the top of the list because print marketing is about more than just an information exchange. It’s about opening up a line of communication with your audience that will be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. It’s about creating a meaningful experience with a person, one that doesn’t just inform them about your product or service but that also gives you a competitive advantage.

As a “top-of-the-funnel” medium, print is important because it guarantees you the nearly undivided attention of your readers – the same attention they often give to magazine and newspaper content, as per the American Marketing Association. Why, then, do you think it’s a good idea to get someone to focus their attention on something that isn’t the best quality it can be? Is that the impression you really want to make?

That’s precisely the decision you make when you try to cut corners when talking about something as mission-critical as print marketing. If you can only make one first impression, it serves you well to make it the best one you can. Nothing makes a worse first impression than a low quality, easily ignorable piece of print marketing making their way into someone’s mailbox (or worse – your store window).

How to Save Money Without Sacrificing Quality

Instead of cutting corners across the proverbial marketing board, consider cutting out certain elements wholesale if you’re trying to stretch your budget as far as it can go. Take a look at your existing marketing channels and see what is working and what isn’t. Cut anything at the bottom of the list and funnel some of those funds back into your marketing so that you can double down on the print materials that are striking a chord with your target audience.

Not only will you still be able to save a little money, but the remaining print collateral that you’re using will come out all the better for it. Even one incredible piece of print collateral is more effective (and more important) than ten low-quality ones.

Investing in Marketing is an Investment in Your Business

A solid piece of print marketing collateral will not just get someone down off the fence and turn them from “potential buyer” to “customer.” Nurturing that line of communication at the right time can turn someone from “one-time customer” into “brand advocate” and beyond, too.

But that’s not going to happen if you cut corners on something this important. According to Quickbooks, inadequate marketing has been proven to stunt your business’ growth. Is that a chance worth taking, all in the name of saving a few bucks in the short-term? We certainly don’t think so.