Tag Archives: Transparency

The Data Doesn’t Lie

5 May

Data is funny.

We use it to tell us all sorts of things. We call it empirical. We talk about how the data doesn’t lie. We look at numbers, look at trends, and we draw conclusions – not just the data scientists in the crowd, but everybody. How much money did you make last year? How profitable is the latest Captain America movie? Who is the most successful batter of all time? The data will tell us.


But … will it?


Let’s look at a couple of baseball players and examine their batting averages. This is real data I’m using here, and the math is pretty easy. For the sake of conversation, let’s try to determine who was a better batter – Derek Jeter or David Justice. To make things simple let’s examine a data set of just two years, 1995 and 1996, and let’s talk about each player’s batting average – that’s the percentage of time, when a batter is at bat, he gets a hit.

Derek Jeter’s batting average for 1995 was .250 and for 1996 was .314

David Justice’s batting average for 1995 was .253 and for 1996 was .321

What does the data tell us? It’s pretty clear, right? If you’re gonna pick a better batter for 1995 and 1996, you’d choose David Justice. He was a more successful batter that Derek Jeter was. He hit the ball with more reliability. That’s not my opinion – The data says so!

Not so fast. Let’s combine the two years:

For the two-year period combined, Derek Jeter’s batting average was .310

For the same period, David Justice’s batting average was .270

Wait, what?

That’s not a typo, that’s Simpson’s Paradox in action. Edward Simpson first described his statistical finding this way: “Trends which appear in groups of data may disappear or reverse when the groups are combined.” Seem unbelievable, right? It’s not. It’s just math.

Let’s look at the raw data. I put the “winner” in bold in each data set.


1995:                           Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 12                    48                    .250

David Justice              104                  411                  .253


1996:                           Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 183                  582                  .314

David Justice              45                    140                  .321


Combined:                  Hits                 At Bats            Average

Derek Jeter                 195                  630                  .310

David Justice               149                  551                  .270


The data doesn’t lie. David Justice had a more successful percentage of at-bats in 1995 and a more successful percentage of at-bats in 1996 … and when you combine the two years, Derek Jeter is the better batter. Sorry, David; when you aggregate data, sometimes there’s just no justice.

I’m not saying data can’t be trusted – that’s not the point at all. Data can always be trusted. It’s empirical, remember. Data doesn’t lie. The paradox is that both cases are true. David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter in both 1995 and 1996. This is a fact. Derek Jeter’s 1995/1996 Combined batting average is higher. This is also true. It seems like these things can’t both be true, but they are.

And that’s the point.

The world isn’t binary. We think if A is true then B must be false, and that’s almost never the case. We think, if we’re right about something, then others must be wrong. We think if what the data tells us is true, then what the data doesn’t tell us is surely false.

All too often, we’re wrong.

Let’s talk about movies for a second. Which movie was more successful, The Avengers, or The Fast and Furious 7? Let me give you some data to help you figure this out:


Movie                          Worldwide Gross

The Avengers              $1,517,557,910

Furious 7                     $1,516,045,991


The answer is obvious. The Avengers was more successful, right? The data says so. The math is clear. The Avengers made $1.5 million more than Furious 7. Box office numbers don’t lie! But there’s more to the data than that. Dig a bit deeper and look at the movie’s cost:


Movie                          Budget

The Avengers              $220,000,000

Furious 7                     $85,000,000


So The Avengers cost $135 million more to make than Furious 7 did, and only made $1.5 million more than Furious 7 did. Doesn’t that mean Furious 7 was more successful?

I guess it depends on how you define successful. And that brings us closer to something you can take away and think about. If you define a movie’s success to be a measure of tickets sold (and dollars earned) at the box office, you are correct in asserting that The Avengers is more successful. If you define a movie’s success as the function of the movie’s box office receipts less the movie’s budget, you are correct in asserting that Furious 7 is more successful.

Despite your binary instincts, telling you only one or the other is true, the data confirms for us that both scenarios are true.

It’s all about how you look at it.

Consider this the next time you find yourself in a disagreement with someone about something. What if the fact that you’re right doesn’t mean the other person is also wrong? What if you’re facing Simpson’s Paradox? What if you’re both right?

It’s not always about who is right. Sometimes, everybody is.

Andrew J. Powell Principal- Application Development

Andrew J. Powell
Principal- Application Development

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


The Great Feeling of a ‘Click’

17 Feb

Do you remember the satisfaction as a child of finding the right Lego piece to make that perfect construction,? Or when the snap-together model finally snapped together?  Perhaps it was the satisfying interlocking of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with a bazillion pieces and the circumference is complete.

In each case, the right piece in the right place creates a sense of completion that is so tangible you can feel it.  You know it’s right.

Great systems architecture can be the same way. 

When you have been analyzing the market for months, and when a vendor finally offers up something that really begins to solve a problem in the industry and it has a capability to solve a thorny problem at scale, it clicks

When you have been wanting to create a strategy but you didn’t have the right combination of skills and capabilities, when the right people and insights come together around the white board, it clicks.

When you have a very complex combination of business issues, scaling and design and the architecture comes together in a profoundly simple and elegant way, it clicks.

Sometimes, when people share something with me and the discussion ensues that illuminates a problem space deeply, it clicks

Is it subjective?  Yes.  And because it is subjective, you have to test the assertions and hypotheses rigorously.  You cannot allow bias to creep in and promulgate a problem simply through your force of will where you desire something to be true.

Because the solutions, design or plans are simple; they can easily be undervalued.   I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr., “I do not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

The OST Cloud strategy is clicking with the integration of Managed Services for Cloud and hosted IaaS/PaaS for IoT and AppDev.  Microsoft’s Azure on-prem solution is beginning to click.  Helping clients with a roadmap to the cloud, I hear the faint sounds of clicking there.  And our largest data center clients are starting to ask for help in their realization of cloud benefits (click). 

Failures or semi-formed solutions are necessary as we iterate in complex problem spaces because the process of hearing from customers, testing our ideas, investigating the market will allow us to sift the good from the bad and our messages will become more mature and fully formed.   Some offerings will disappear under the weight of low customer adoption, and we will say, “it was good we didn’t invest too much there…” but they will be a rung on the ladder to the place where we will be ultimately successful, if we keep learning and are willing to move quickly, and when it all comes together, well, it will click.

The same processes have worked in the past, I have a long list that I quickly made that reflected on many of our long-term relationships and most valuable customer engagements.

It takes work.  It takes listening.  It takes knowing enough about the goals and long-range objectives so that you know how the pieces should fit together even through the state of the industry or the maturity of OST isn’t where you want it to be.  Great artists do it.  Great architects do it.  Great designers do it.  Great technologists do it.


_ _ _

Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey has served as VP of Technical Operations, CTO and now Chief Innovation Officer for OST. Jim has provided the technical leadership and product strategic planning for the organization since the very beginning. Jim is a technology visionary who sets the long and short-term direction for OST. He specializes in seeing the “big picture” of technology, industry trends and the business objectives supported by IT. As OST has gained an international reputation, Jim has taught and spoken at conferences in Europe, Japan, and throughout the US. Lastly, we must confess that some of OST’s peculiar culture is a direct derivation of Jim’s unorthodox style.


Top Ten Ways to Protect Our Children from Technology

19 Nov

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Transparency in the face of Difficulties

30 Dec

Transparency in Business2008 is now but a memory.  That fall was the start of the financial downturn and the capital plans at our customers collapsed in a matter of weeks.  OST was doing a lot of business in the financial services space and no one needs to be reminded of what happened to that industry.

OST had a bad month in November of 2008.

Dan, Meredith and I were thinking about how to communicate to the OST employees.  Many of our team had worked for companies had experienced downturns in the past.  And each of the three of us had personally experienced the emotions that occur when corporations downsize.

We have a culture of loyalty at OST and the three of us believed that each employee was valuable and important.  We also believed that every one of them had to be at the top of their game and individually successful in order for us to get through the downturn.  Finally, we knew that if we kept the team intact and we persevered, we would be extraordinarily positioned for growth when the recovery began.

But how to avoid the angst that naturally occurs when there is uncertainty and fear of the future.

We decided to do two things: Share good news and be completely transparent.

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