Numbers Don’t Lie, but . . .

There’s a common saying ,”the numbers don’t lie,” but is that true? Well, kinda. If you’re tracking stats consistently you’ve got an objective dataset that in an of itself doesn’t lie. But what you do with that data or how you arrive at that data can be manipulated in a way to tell the narrative that you’re wanting to tell. You can tell a story from true data that doesn’t hold as true when you look at it in a broader context.

Let’s look at an example with the current Covd-19 Pandemic. Here’s a Tweet from Andy Slavitt on May 2:

A couple points first. I don’t have the exact data sources that Mr. Slavitt was using for his numbers, so the exact daily count that I refer to in a moment won’t match. My sources were Worldometer for USA and the New York State Department of Health Covid-19 Tracker for New York. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the Tweet and the data itself.

First, let’s talk about the truth of the data. In a 7-day period the number of new cases in the USA outside of New York did increase, per his data source, by 17%. And at that growth rate we would see over 50,000 new cases by Memorial Day. The math adds up in and of itself. But why choose those two days in isolation? What happens if we look at other 7 day changes right around that time? Let’s take a look at this table:

Seven Day Covid-19 Numbers in USA & NY

Again, my data source is probably a little different than Mr. Slavitt, so the exact numbers won’t match. But let’s jump forward a couple days to the 7-day period ending 5/3. If we use that date then the case numbers outside of New York actually grew by even more (19%) than the seven days he referenced. If we use that date and percentage growth than we’d have even more than 50,000 new cases by Memorial Day.

The problem with either of these two dates is that it’s not looking at those individual days in context. Using this same approach we could actually forecast the opposite effect. The seven days ending 4/30 saw a drop in cases outside NY by -6.2%. So using that number we’d project just over 20,000 new daily cases by Memorial Day. I used the exact same logic and a date only two day prior to produce a result that was 60% lower. That’s the danger of using such a small data point out of context to make proclamations. You really need to look at the context and a bigger range of days to get a better feel for how things are going.

I think a more useful thing to do is compare the seven day average between two days. That will do a better job normalizing the numbers. On 4/29 the average was 24,128 outside NY and it was 25,463 on 5/5. That’s a 5.5% growth in a week. So, again, using just that logic and a small dataset that projects new daily cases around 30,000 at Memorial Day.

But what does the trend actually look like? Here’s a chart to help show the numbers:

For the last three days the USA has seen daily cases outside NY at or below the seven day average. Part of the reason that the seven day trend is going up is the spike in cases on 5/1. That number will make the average grow, for sure. But a very small downward trend might be starting now. We will see soon.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Simply this. It’s nearly impossible to know what the future will bring with this virus. If you want to paint a rosy picture you can find the data to do that. If you can only see doom and gloom you can find the data to support that opinion.

My personal read on the data in a broader sense is that things will start to greatly improve between now and Memorial Day. I am generally an optimist, so this is my default position. But I also think the data is starting to point that direction. Most states are seeing an overall downward trend in most every key metric. Time will tell.

Stay smart and stay safe everyone. This too shall pass. Hopefully soon.

Incompetence vs Overconfidence

“Incompetence irritates me, but overconfidence scares me. Incompetent people rarely have the opportunities to make mistakes that greatly affect things. But overconfident leaders and experts have the dangerous ability to create disaster.” Malcolm Gladwell as quoted by Jon Acuff

How Not to Sell a Roofing Repair

I admire the persistence of roofing companies, but they annoy me at the same time. Here’s a rundown of what just happened at my house.



Random roofing sales dude: “Hi, sir, I’m so-and-so with random roofing company. We’re in the neighborhood today offering free roof inspections. Have you had your roof inspected since the hail storms this Spring?”

Me: “No, but we can’t really do that right now.”

Sales dude: “Well, why not?”

Me: “Because we have a newborn baby sleeping.”

Sales dude: “We could come back tomorrow.”

Me: “No thanks.”


I mean, seriously. Do you really think I want someone climbing around on my roof right after we had a baby? Maybe I’m just cranky from lack of sleep, but I think it’s important to really pay attention to other people’s needs and desires when you’re trying to sell something. This guy didn’t really get that concept. He just wanted to make a sale.

[image via MJM]

Welcome to the United States of Apple [Image]

It was reported a few weeks ago that Apple had more operating cash that the US Treasury. Maybe the solution our country needs to solve our debt crisis is for Steve Jobs & Friends to simply buy the country. That’s right, we could become the United States of Apple.

Since this is the inevitable future for us all, I went ahead and re-designed the flag in preparation. I think this could work:

What do you think?


Accept the Blame, Give Away the Praise

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

During President Obama’s press conference yesterday, there seemed to be a recurring theme. It wasn’t the main point he was trying to make, I think, but I picked up on it nonetheless. Whenever he talked about an issue where he perceived there is a problem he said something along the lines of “the minority in the Senate is being stubborn,” which basically meant I heard him say “it’s not my fault, blame the Republicans.”

Whether or not it’s true that the Republicans in the Senate are just being stubborn and trying to drag things down is not what I’m most interested in. I’m not a huge fan of politics in general, but I am a fan of leadership and learning leadership lessons. And since the President is the most visible leader in our country, and possibly the world, I think we can learn significant leadership lessons from him.

What I saw him doing yesterday was blaming others for the country’s problems. I don’t think that’s good leadership. Again, it might be true that it’s someone else’s fault, but when you’re the leader and you blame someone else it comes across as immature to me.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discussed this concept in what he calls the window and the mirror. According to his groups study, great leaders look in the mirror when there is a problem. They are the first to say “I was wrong” or “I could do a better job.” The reason for this is that ultimately the whole organization rises and falls on leadership on one level or another.

On the other hand, if there is praise to be given a leader should look out the window to the people in his organization. When people praise great leaders respond by saying things like “I’ve got a great team” or something similar. This shouldn’t be done with false humility, but it’s an honest assessment of the situation. Without a great team a great leader won’t accomplish much.

It was a good reminder to me that it’s easy to slip into the opposite attitude. When things aren’t going well we point the finger to blame someone else. We’ve been doing this as humans for a long time. But when things are going well our egos tend to puff up and we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.

So, accept the blame but give the praise away. It’s the best way to lead others.

The Mindset of 2014 College Grads. What will 2030’s List Look Like?

We had a conversation at our staff lunch today about the Beloit College Mindset List. The list started at the college as an aid to help their faculty understand how to better relate to new students, but it has grown since its inception into a helpful snapshot for people everywhere to understand how rapidly our culture is changing.

Here’s a snippet from this year’s list:

The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

It’s a pretty fun read with a list of 75 items, some of which made me feel pretty old at the ripe old age of 31.

Looking to the future to when my oldest daughter will graduate (possibly) in the year 2030, I imagine the world will be very, VERY different. Here are some ideas that I think might make the list in twenty years:

  • Will think it’s a bargain to pay $5 per gallon for gas.
  • Won’t have a clue what DVDs or CDs are.
  • Blockbuster won’t even be a memory for them.
  • Apple will be seen as an old, unhip company instead of the elite buzz they have now.
  • Will laugh at their parents talking about facebook, since it will be replaced by something newer and better.
  • Won’t know how to use a computer mouse, since they’ll grow up with touch-screens like the iPad.
  • The daily printed newspaper won’t exist in any form.
  • A “home phone” won’t make any sense in their minds.
  • They won’t understand having to schedule a time to watch a TV show or movie since they’ll be able to watch whatever they want whenever and wherever they are.
  • Going to college will be less popular than taking online classes.

As a church leader, I think it’s good for us to keep an eye on what’s happening in culture around us. I’ve written previously on what churches can learn from the demise of the print industry and I think preachers everywhere should keep their eye on the culture so that they can best present the never-changing message of the Gospel to an ever-changing world. We probably could use an update to the statement attributed to Karl Barth to “Read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” don’t you think?

What do you think the list might include in 20 years? Will my list be accurate at all?

Image by flickr user Matti Mattila

Two Mega-church Pastors in Dallas, Two Very Different Media Reactions

The Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex has no shortage of mega-churches or mega-church pastors. It’s been called The New Capital of Evangelicalism by Christianity Today. It’s not unheard for a mega-church to be across the street from another mega-church. There is also a history of at least one other Dallas pastor getting caught in a money scandal.

Yesterday, I asked how much a pastor should make for his work, but today I want to look at another angle of the Ed Young saga. That is how the media portrayed him and another area mega-church pastor very differently this past week. The other pastor is Matt Chandler from The Village Church.

If you’re not familiar with Chandler, here’s a brief history. His church has grown rapidly in the past seven years that he has been the senior pastor. The average attendance when he began was around 150. Now they average around 6,000 each weekend and have three campuses. This past fall he was diagnosed with brain cancer and had surgery to remove a rapidly growing malignant brain tumor.

The Associated Press ran a story last weekend that was very favorable to him. They pointed out that he drives a car that he affectionately calls his Dodge “Gimpalla” and has over 140,000 miles. They also were very gracious in their descriptions of his desire to “suffer well” for the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ.

What struck me as I reflected on these two portrayals in the media was how Matt and Ed stand in juxtaposition to one another. One pastor is an over-the-top personality who’s known for elaborate sets, props, and creative communication in his preaching. The other is known for his simplicity (not to mention his self-described yelling at his church while preaching) in pointing people to the cross. They really are two very different personalities and have been portrayed as such by the media.

I’m not intending to pick on Ed Young. I still think he’s a good guy, loves the Lord with all his heart, and is leading his church properly, but I can’t help but think of verses like 1 Timothy 3:7, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace.” Also, Jesus’ words to his disciples as he sent them out to do work in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

These two stories were good reminders to me that the outside world is watching our actions and I need to make sure that I reflect Christ in everything I say and do.

What’s your take on these two stories in the media? Share your response in the comments.

What Should a Pastor’s Salary Be?

This past week WFAA Channel 8 ran a story that painted Ed Young, Senior Pastor of Fellowship Church, in a very negative light. The gist of the report was that Ed’s salary ($1 mil) and various perks (private jet, $200k+ parsonage allowance) are intentionally kept hidden from his congregation and he’s profiting from his non-profit church behind their backs.

While I think the story had some holes in it and didn’t paint a complete picture (no interviews from people defending Ed), it did raise a few questions that I think are worth asking of every church and pastor. In particular, how much money should a pastor be paid for his work?

I know there are quite a few opinions on how to determine the answer, but here are just a few examples:

  • Pastors should not be paid for their work. While this opinion is rare in the United States today, it can be found. Some people think that all pastors should be bi-vocational (work one job to earn a living while serving the church).
  • Pastors’ salaries should be less than the average salary of their congregations. The idea here is that pastors are servants. If someone is making less money than another then by default they will feel like more of a servant.
  • Pastors’ salaries should be comprable to the average salary of their congregations. There’s an expectation for pastors to live in the area in which they serve and be able to relate to their congregants every day lives, so they’d have to make about the same amount of money to do that.
  • Pastors should make more money than is average in their area. Ministry is a stressful profession. In addition, many pastors are highly trained, well educated people. When you compare the work of many pastors to jobs in other lines of work you’ll see that salaries are pretty high in those other jobs.

The actual dollar amount will of course be different from one town to the next, but these are some ideas that I’ve seen used to determine a pastors salary.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image courtesy of flickr user borman818.