How to make the world seem REEAAALLLY BOORRRIIIING

How to be bored

  1. Take a performance report.
  2. Get the data out of those damn tables and silly bar graphs.
  3. Stick it in a run chart, or a control chart, s’up to you.
  4. Look for any actual change over the course of the whole time period.
  5. Yawn.

Whenever I get my hands on data, a rare occurrence for a performance person, I’ve found 90% of the time there has not been any real change.  That over the whole time period nothing happened. Booger all. Sweet FA.

You might find something like this…

These are the standard run chart rules to check for one consistent unchanged process…

Applying these tests to the chart above what do we find?


Nuffinks changed!

No exciting shifts or trends.


Over 3 years!




Managers and strategic leaders DO do stuff over this time period, but because they’re human beings, they react to things that are special and new and distinct, or at least LOOK special new and distinct. They see signal where there is just noise.

If this week’s performance number is lower than last weeks performance number, then look at this week and find out what’s different about it. And probably this will result in some kind of shouting at somebody. Either way, the focus will be on the special, the one-off, the peak, the low-point, the very latest. The focus will be on….

Or they might focus on the outstanding features to the eye….



Either way, they’re looking at where their eye drags them. They are eyeballing data.

Using the eye for analysing data is as bad as using the gut, another mis-used body part often used for feeling or reacting instead of it’s evolved function of producing faeces. The irony.

Instead there is another useful body part just dying to get involved in decision making and data analysis, the brain. Once equipped with the more accurate mental models of how the world works and the necessary tools to apply them, the brain will look at something else…

This means instead of looking at the latest data point or the sharpest looking peak, you look at what the actual whole process is doing. Cos, as the cliche goes, it’s perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. Especially if all there is to look at IS the boring old up and down of common cause variation.

Looking at the common cause variation in the process will mean they  devise a common cause solution.

Looking at imaginary special causes leads to special cause solutions, and special cause solutions in a common cause world are just tampering. No change results, just fiddling round, wasting opportunity. At best just increasing the common cause variation. But without the mental models or tools to support them, the increase in common cause variation will go unnoticed by everybody but the customers who experience it.

This is why control charts are soooo boooorrring. They show up the futility of acting without knowledge, over and over again, world without end.

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2 Responses to How to make the world seem REEAAALLLY BOORRRIIIING

  1. Dr dog says:

    You’ve got my interest, now tell me more about common causes? Forgive me for a newbb question.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      No such thing as a newbie question, only good questions, and that is one. I’ve only learned through reading books and the internet. I’m no pro, and I’m keenly aware of the fact. My definition is nothing repeats itself like watching a movie for the second third or thousandth time. Every time you watch a film it’ll be exactly the same. I think common cause variation is like watching a play at the theatre over consecutive days. The script, actors, set etc are the same. But it’s always sightly different, without anybody making a decision to make it different. The words might be said louder in one bit, somebody rushes through a speech that they said slower the previous day. Facial expressions are not EXACTLY the same day after day.
      These changes and differences are inherent to the play. The choice of actors, the script, everything, all define how long and what happens in the play. This is the system, and the minor impossible to extinguish day to day differences are the common cause variation.
      If somebody says a word differently on one day, you wouldn’t think that the play was now a different play, or that a change had been made by the director. It’s just what happens. If the main actor goes on stage drunk and forgets his lines, that’s NOT in the day to day common cause variation. This is a special cause, from outside the system.
      I think there’s less common cause variation in manufacturing than in service sector cos humans are not robots. Think of a pen or a pair of Nike shoes. They’ll be each and every one very similar, unnoticeable differences will be there, but you’ll probably not notice them. Just cos it’s easier to control things rather than people.
      People of course are much better than things in other ways.
      The point of distinguishing between common and special cause variation is so you know WHEN to take action and WHAT action to take.
      Common cause variation is a symptom of things in the process, and the way they interact. Special cause variation is from something OUTSIDE the process, generally. It is something that had arrived and probably gone too.
      One of the points of control charts is to define what is and what isn’t special cause variation, so you don’t waste time and money on looking for reasons why something is “different”, when it is not. Humans being human, they’ll find a signal when there’s just noise, which is why we need tools like run charts and control charts. They are still only heuristics, but they’re the best heuristics we’ve got.
      Is this answering your question?


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