Numbers Game

I was intrigued to hear the BBC’s new Director General, George Entwistle saying he plans to increase creativity by 20%.  Hey, I’m all for more creativity.  But why not 21%?   Or 19.75%?

I can’t help thinking he is using numbers, as many of us do, to sound rational.  He’s ‘declaring war on bureaucracy’ (whatever that means) and in case we have doubts, he holds up a big, reassuring number.

Simple, huh?

Yet, when your doctor asks you how you are feeling, you don’t generally reply “3.465”.   You can have a blood sugar count that’s perfect to the tenth decimal place, but if you are feeling “poorly”, the numbers mean little.  The real world isn’t rational* and numbers are not facts.  Ask the bankers.

So next time someone reduces the rich complexity of our life to an oversimplified number, remember that’s only half the story. Or should I say 0.5?

* If in any doubt, read Dan Ariely’s wonderful “Predictably Irrational”

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