Julian’s Business Tips: Business Data Bombshell

Julian’s Business Tips: Business Data Bombshell

Last month’s article talked about measuring data – this month I want you to think a bit more about that.

I’ve been on the South Coast this week, and saw several reminders of the aerial campaigns of WW2. During the war, the number of bombers being shot down, and pilots lost, was very high.

Wartime leaders decided that they needed to protect the bombers from hostile gunfire, but they could not armour the entire plane as the extra weight would compromise manoeuvrability, and maybe even make it too heavy to fly! So what should they do?

Data! The air force examined all returning aircraft to assess the extent of the damage – this would surely show which areas needed protecting most.
The data was very clear: many returning planes were riddled with gunfire all over the wings and fuselage, but almost no damage to the cockpit or tail.

So, the best idea must be to reinforce the wings and fuselage, where planes were being hit. Surely this was common sense.

No. Hungarian mathematician, Abraham Wald disagreed. He realised they had forgotten something. The data was only from returning planes – what about the planes that had not returned, that had been shot down?

He realised that a plane could get hit in the wings and fuselage, yet still return home safely. The planes that were hit in the cockpit and tail were the ones that sadly didn’t make it home. So those areas, undamaged on the returning planes, were precisely the areas that needed most protection!

The air force listened and Wald’s insight turned out to be of profound importance, not just to bomber command, but to the entire war effort.

Don’t pre-judge your data – if you’re going to bother collecting it, analyse it dispassionately and look at all possibilities! You never know how important that might be!