Aligning your data and decisions. Why there is no ‘Category 6’​ for hurricanes.


With Hurricane Dorian in the news, I thought it might be a good time to repost this article. It provides a great illustration of aligning data and decisions.

And, to the people in the Caribbean and Southeastern United States, my thoughts are with you. I hope you remain safe during this difficult storm.


Original Article: September 10, 2017

*****

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don’t know.

Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

(Source: This Is Spinal Tap, Dir: Rob Reiner. MGM. 1984. Film)

******

Do your data align with your decisions?

Are they too granular? If so, they may be introducing excess complexity and noise into your decision-making process.

If not granular enough, they may delay your action.

Or, in poor Nigel’s case, they may create an illusion of control or precision.

There have been rumors circulating on the internet that Hurricane Irma might achieve a never before seen status: Category Six.

However, there is problem with this rumor. The Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring hurricane wind speeds only goes up to 5.

Each of the levels prior to five has a nicely defined range. At five, it becomes open-ended. A hurricane whose winds are 157 miles an hour is considered the same as one whose winds are 200 miles an hour. How can that be?

The Saffir-Simpson scale is an excellent example of alignment between data and decision-making. The goal of the scale is not merely to describe or categorize wind speeds. If that were the case then it would make sense to have additional categories. It would also be unnecessarily complicated.

The Saffir-Simpson scale’s goal is to help people make decisions:

“The Saffir-Simpson scale is designed to reflect the damage a given storm will cause to buildings and other man-made structures in its path. Category 5 is widespread, catastrophic damage. There’s not really anything worse than that.” [1]

In other words, you don’t need a category above five because your decision at 157 MPH and 200 MPH is pretty much the same. Get out of the way and prepare for a lot of damage.

Dr. Robert Simpson, the co-creator of the scale put it this way

“I think it’s immaterial. Because when you get up into winds in excess of 155 miles per hour you have enough damage if that extreme wind sustains itself for as much as six seconds on a building it’s going to cause rupturing damages that are serious no matter how well it’s engineered. It may only blow the windows out, but on the other hand, it can actually rupture the stairwells, the elevator wells and twist them, and it’s happened in many buildings so that you can’t even use the elevators after they’ve experienced this. So I think that it’s immaterial what will happen with winds stronger than 156 miles per hour. That’s the reason why we didn’t try to go any higher than that anyway.”[2]

Good data and metrics shouldn’t simply describe what is going on. They should drive decision-making. 

If your decision doesn’t change along with the value of your metrics (or the categorization of those metrics), you are probably reporting at too granular a level. 

Similarly, if two situations that require different action fall into the same category (or have the same value), you are not granular enough.

Align your data and decisions. Doing so prevents you from spending time thinking about differences in your data that don’t impact your decision. If you get really good at it, you might even take your decision-making to eleven!

———

Brad Kolar is an executive consultant, speaker, and author with Avail Advisors. Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data and communication. Contact Brad at brad.kolar@availadvisors.com

[1] Limer, Eric. “Why There’s No Such Thing As a Category 6 Hurricane.” Popular Mechanics, 7 Sept. 2017, www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/news/a28075/why-category-6-hurricanes-dont-exist/. Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.

[2] http://novalynx.com/store/pc/Simpson-Interview-d53.htm

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