What Inspires You?

Do you think that looking at your business’s data is a waste of time because you don’t have mountains of numbers? Or maybe because you just don’t have any to begin with?

Sometimes the data that you need to answer the questions that would really make a difference in your business just doesn’t exist. You’ve got nada. Zilch. And that’s where the story usually ends…

What if I told you that it’s not as impossible as you might think? Read on for some tips by way of Central Park West.

Geek Out Alert!

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll know that Robert Caro inspires me. In case his name isn’t familiar to you, he’s the author of The Power Broker, a biography of NYC’s Robert Moses; and a multivolume biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Over the holiday weekend I was able to visit the New York Historical Society’s exhibit, “Turn Every Page: Inside The Robert A. Caro Archive.” (A bonus: since it’s located on Central Park West I had a great selection of food trucks to choose from!)

And reader, I geeked out!

Simple Doesn’t Equal Useless

I got to see artifacts of his early career as an investigative reporter. I got to see the certificate awarded to him when he won the Pulitzer Prize. Typewritten pages from Means of Ascent. A list written in longhand on a legal pad of “Things That Have To Go In” for one of his books. Journalist’s notebooks from his interviews, with “SHUT UP” written on the inside front cover as a reminder to himself to let the interviewee talk.

One artifact in particular caught my attention: a sheet of paper with cross-hatches arranged in three vertical columns. In the middle is a figure in red, “11%.”

It dawned on me that this was part of his research for The Power Broker. And the cross-hatches stood for people. Caro and his wife and research assistant Ida had made those marks, counting the race of every visitor to Jones Beach State Park on a summer day in 1967.

These are simple counts, tallied by hand. No color, just black ink on white paper, with one written in red and circled. No whiz-bang visualizations, not even a bar chart. But the data doesn’t need it. The story these cross-hatches tell of the visitors’ race that day rises up from the page loud and clear. Just 11% of the visitors weren’t White. One more piece of evidence supporting Caro’s argument that Moses literally built racism into the physical infrastructure of New York. You see, the overpasses on the Long Island parkways that one needs to take to get to Jones Beach were too low for a bus to clear. Unless you owned an auto (which many lower-income people didn’t), it would be very difficult to actually get to Jones Beach State Park out on Long Island.

Caro Didn’t Need Whiz-Bang, And Neither Do You

Caro faced a situation where there wasn’t any data and he had to go out and create it. And so can you. Caro certainly wasn’t a statistician or number-cruncher, but he didn’t let that stop him from using the data available to him. And when there wasn’t any, Caro created it with what he had available: himself, his wife as research assistant, and pen and paper.

Simple doesn’t automatically equal useless. Simple can be quite powerful.

So now over to you. What question has been niggling at your brain, but you never investigate because you just don’t have any data? How could you take a page out of Caro’s book (pun intended!) and start creating your own? You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish with pen and paper. Reply in the comments, or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Not sure how to start looking at your data? Check out my blog post that walks you through how to get started, or download my Data Jumpstart Guide for my 5-Step process. (It’s also available as a private podcast feed if you’d prefer to listen to me talk you through it!)

Connect With Me

Want to snag some time with me to brainstorm how to start using your data? Book a free 30-minute call with me using the link below.

Are you looking for more individualized support and guidance? Let’s talk about whether private one-to-one coaching would be a solution. I offer packages in multiples of three months, with defined, measurable outcomes.

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