The image above is from a recent post by famed author and Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely. Take a quick look to see if you can figure it out in 30 seconds or less. Reports tell us that 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds reviewing any piece of content on the internet. I have given you twice as much time. Have you figured out the answer?
It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. The digital medium we all use today makes sharing images easier and more powerful than ever. Our lack of time, or attention span, makes it easier to fool us than ever.
Consultants, marketing pros, survey data providers and sales people know that images can drive their point, and your long-term thoughts far easier than data. They “simplify” things for us with infographics and charts, but the result is often misinformation or confusion.
Consider a scatter chart. These often communicate absolutely nothing until someone drops a “trendline” on top of the data. What we fail to see is that the data above and below the trendline is still essentially (and sometimes totally) random.
Consider a chart that shows how much growth is in a specific type of compensation, as compared to other types. Often these charts have the x and y axis meeting at a place far away from 0. They often include a scale that conveniently implies far more growth than is truly occurring. Imagine a bar chart showing usage. The two charts below look almost identical, they are very different and very terrible. (source: www.grapes-apples-bananas.com)
Not only are these two charts misleading, but the lack of good source data ensures that we cannot trust what they are telling. But, in our industry charts like these are common. They are used on websites, presentations and in marketing materials. They trick us into believing something we aren’t even seeing.
We need to be very careful in an age where we are increasingly spoon-fed “information” in pretty pictures. We are regularly at risk of losing credibility among the stakeholders who must support and champion many of the decisions we must make to continue driving the success of our organizations.
As for the challenge provided by Dan Ariely, the answer is easy if you do the math, but incredibly hard if you try and figure things out based on the picture. The correct answer is that there cannot be any distance between the poles. The 14’ length of rope is only able to reach 3’ from the ground if it doubles over on itself.
Dan Walter, CECP, CEP is the President and CEO of Performensation. He is passionately committed to aligning pay with company strategy and culture and considered a leading expert on equity compensation issues. Dan has written several industry resources including a recent Performance-Based Equity Compensation issue brief. He has co-authored ”Everything You Do In Compensation is Communication”, “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”,“Equity Alternatives” and other books. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Or, follow him on Twitter at @Performensation.