Sustained improvement only follows from effective actions; which follow from well-informed decisions – not from blind guessing. A well-informed decision imples good information – and good information is not just good data. Good information implies that good data is presented in a format that is both undistorted and meaningful to the recipient. How we present data is, in my experience, one of the weakest links in the improvement process. We rarely see data presented in a clear, undistorted, and informative way and commonly we see it presented in a way that obscures or distorts our perception of reality. We are presented with partial facts quoted without context – so we unconsciously fill in the gaps with our own assumptions and prejudices and in so doing distort our perception further. And the more emotive the subject the more durable the memory that we create – which means it continues to distort our future perception even more.
The primary purpose of the news media is survival – by selling news – so the more emotive and memorable the news the better it sells. Accuracy and completeness can render news less attractive: by generating the “that’s obvious, it is not news” response. Catchy headlines sell news and to do that they need to generate a specific emotional reaction quickly – and that emotion is curiosity! Once alerted, they must hold the readers attention by quickly creating a sense of drama and suspense – like a good joke – by being just ambiguous enough to resonate with many different pepole – playing on their prejudices to build the emotional intensity.
The purpose of politicians is survival – to stay in power long enough to achieve their goals – so the less negative press they attract the better – but Politicians and the Press need each other because their purpose is the same – to survive by selling an idea to the masses – and to do that they must distort reality and create ambiguity. This has the unfortunate side effect of also generating less-than-wise decisions.
So if our goal is to cut through the emotive fog and get to a good decision quickly so that we can act effectively we need just the right data presented in context and in an unambiguous format that we, the decision-maker, can interpret quickly. The most accessible format is as a picture that tells a story – the past, the present and the likely future – a future that is shaped by the actions that come from the decisions we make in the present that we make using information from the past. The skill is to convert data into a story … and one simple and effective tool for doing that is a process behaviour chart.