Published on: October 16, 2012by Michael Sansolo
For reasons I cannot explain, I read the weddings section in the New York Times this weekend and found the following shocking statistic: New Jersey is the best place to get married in the United States.
Despite its media-created reputation (looking at you, Snooki) New Jersey is a pretty nice place. It’s got nice towns, some rural areas and, of course, the beautiful Jersey Shore. But a paradise for marriage? Come on.
Yet, only about nine percent of New Jersey residents list their marital status as “divorced,” which is well below the national average and far below many states that are usually connected with more traditional values. What’s more, both New York and California also were on the very low end of the spectrum.
As always, there’s more to this story. How we measure things and how we use those measurements always merit discussion, whether it concerns the Oakland Athletics baseball team, marital bliss in New Jersey or the performance of products on a supermarket shelf. So let’s start in New Jersey.
According to experts, the reasons for the low divorce rate in New Jersey are fairly simple. Many of the predictors of divorce surround the age at which people marry along with their economic level and educational status. In many of the states with low divorce levels like New Jersey, people get married older or, as is the case with North Dakota, live in relatively secure economic conditions.
All the same, I’m betting that many of us found this a really surprising statistic.
That is, of course, the key to understanding statistics. As the old saying goes, there are three kinds of falsehoods: lies, damned lies and statistics. Knowledge comes from getting beyond coincidences or biases and learning to look for the real insights. That’s why the relative success of marriages in New Jersey is both eye-opening and understandable at the same time once we look deeply enough to find out why.
That’s also why the Oakland A’s, eliminated from the playoffs last week, always merit our attention. The A’s, as everyone who read or saw Moneyball knows, are the poster child for creative interpretation of statistics. A small budget team, the A’s routinely win far more games than teams with far more famous and expensive players. This year was no exception: the A’s won’t win the World Series, but they got far more bang for the buck than every other team in baseball.
What the A’s do (and it’s the reason you should read or see Moneyball if you haven’t) is find the statistics that truly define winning performance. Baseball is awash in statistics measuring every aspect of the game. Yet the new thinking of the game is that many of the time-honored stats are poor measurements of achievement and potential. Rather they are stats that are unfairly influenced by luck and factors beyond any player’s control.
So using new measures - arguably, better measures - the A’s stock up on players whose skills produce victories, yet who are undervalued.
Again, that is a powerful lesson for businesses. The simple measures of performance - sales, profits, return on investment, etc. - still matter, but only with the context like the information from New Jersey. Because it’s highly possible that a store with weak numbers might really be outperforming its potential because of countless external and uncontrollable issues. Similarly, measuring products just on gross or net profit might misstate the importance of specific products to shopping trips.
Statistics and insights are essential to business performance. Gauges and measures help us all better understand what is happening, what is succeeding and what is not. But without context and without trying to understand new and better measures, we limit ourselves to misunderstanding what might be happening in New Jersey or Oakland.
Then again, nothing explains why I was reading the weddings section of the New York Times.
Some things can’t be explained.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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