Everything I learned about “bad data” from the Evil Queen

(and Theresa May)


This article was inspired by a small article in the The Times a while back (I’m not able to find it today) which claimed that it wad “Bad Data” that cost the conservative party votes in the snap election. I’d been joking about how the Evil Queen from Snow White was the most metric driven villain for a while before, so without further delay..I present to you ‘Everything I learned about “bad data from the Evil Queen (and Theresa May) ”’

1. Start with a goal

In both Teresa’s and the Evil Queen’s case, their goal was the same: to rule the land. This is the step everyone is good at.

2. Fairest in the land: the vision of success

This is the stage where it starts to go wrong. For the Evil Queen, for May, for small and large businesses alike.

For businesses, the vision is often a target number that seems pulled out of the air, such as “double our revenue in X timeframe”.

For the Evil Queen, being ‘the fairest in the land’ seems pretty abstract from the goal of ruling.

For Theresa it was to hold a snap election and get a mandate.


3. the five why’s

Some people really don’t like being asked the five why’s

If step number 2 is where people start to go wrong, then step 3 is your safety checkpoint.

It’s worth taking a moment to check your assumptions with the five why’s.

For example:

  • Q1. why does being the fairest of the land matter for ruling?
  • A1. Evil Queen: Because people associate beauty with goodness.
  • Q2. Why is being seen as good matter for ruling?
  • A2.Because people will be more loyal to me.
  • Q3. Why is people being loyal to you important for ruling?
  • A3. Because I inherited this kingdom from my dead husband, have no heirs, am foreign to this land and my position is dreadfully insecure. Therefore I need loyalty of the people to remain in power.
We’ve actually gotten to a really important point before even getting to question number 4, so lets turn it around:

Q4. Is being the most attractive in the land the best use of available resources to making your position more solid?

Not really. Maybe drop an email to queen.Isabella@castile.es for hints and tips.

The five why’s applied to the Tories might have gone something like:

  • Q1. Why a snap election?
  • A1. Because Corbyn’s unelectable and may be out soon so now is the best time.
  • Q2. Why is he unelectable?
  • A2. Because he’s a jam making socialist with an allotment.
  • Q3. why is being a socialist unelectable?
  • A3. Because people are insecure about jobs and money.
  • Q4. Why are people who are insecure about jobs and money opposed to socialism?
  • A4. Because…well..

Bingo.

The assumption is flawed, and it’s flawed about quite a large percentage of the uk population. Enough for a hung parliament.

Some people get defensive about being asked these kinds of questions, because they think their target goal is “obvious” and we’re being obtuse in questioning it. I was having an informal conversation with a friend of a friend, a lady who runs a small business. She didn’t like being asked why having a message board was important to success. But a message board needs sensitive and perpetual moderation, clear community standards and community building efforts to keep it active as well as additional hosting costs, which is a lot of additional time and costs for a one woman outfit. Especially for a message board that hand changed hands twice and with a lot of historic drama on it, making it more high risk because the watered-down community on it were already jaded.

Before undertaking a “Self-evident” strategy, you need to drill down and ask the questions. There might be a more direct, inexpensive solution.

4. “…and so?” : The strategy

If the five why’s aren’t followed, you’ll roll ahead with a strategy that may yield the opposite results: spending money you don’t have to stay in power, and Snow White as queen.

For Queenie, her unchecked “and so?” lead to “kill the prettiest girl in the land”. For Teresa, it was to encourage labor voters to vote, since Tory HQ were sure that corbyn’s unelectability would equal votes for tories.

I don’t want to rush to conclusions without knowing all the facts, but while whacking the incumbent number 1 beauty seems like most direct way of becoming the new number 1, this isn’t a long term solution.

5. Check your goal alignment

Does you vision align with your strategy?

The Queen’s answers to to the five whys showed that her underlaying need was to win hearts and minds to secure loyalty.

Hunting teenage girls does not align to that need.

But I can’t blame the evil queen too much. After all, it’s not like she had two advisors and campaign strategists at hand.

6. The Metric: how will you know the goal has been achieved?

Finally, we get to the part where metrics come into play.

I have to give it to the queen because in a day and age of fuzzy goals, “heart in a box” is as black and white as you can get.

For the tories it was higher voter turnouts in labour areas.

In both cases, you have to ask “can this metric be misinterpreted?” e.g.

  • “Does higher voters in labour areas really mean they’ve voted for you?”
  • “Are you going to DNA test that heart, love?”

7. Test often and change strategy until you get results.

When the Evil Queen received Snow’s ‘heart’ in a box, I imagine she drank lots of Cava, played Dancing Queen on loop, and had a drunken monologue to an imaginary Snow White in front of the mirror. We’ll never know.

What we do know for sure is that the next morning she checked in with her magic mirror, same as always to check she was back to being the fairest in the land. That’s data driven leadership, people. She could have just assumed that she was the new number one since she’d just whacked cutest girl in the land, but she knew that all kinds of things may happen that she couldn’t foresee. Migrant cute girls. Changing beauty standards. Betrayal by her hunter. Animal-dwarf coalitions. It’s a crazy world.

And when she saw the heart-in-a-box metric was flawed, did she ever change track, testing her methods with her mirror each time until she saw results. First, there was a magic belt that cut off snow white’s breathing. Then there was the poisoned comb, and finally the poisoned apple.

try something new-test-repeat is for winners.

In this department it’s Evil Queen 1: Theresa May 0 because tory MP’s and May herself knew the strategy wasn’t working, but they didn’t — were not given freedom to– change track.

The take-home:

It’s easy to blame ‘bad data’ from opinion polls and magic mirrors, but both are is just ONE step in a chain of decisions and strategies made by people. People can interpret data wrongly because they’re too invested in one particular outcome happening or not happening. People can set flawed strategies and metrics to measure the wrong things without questioning if this is the best way.

In other words, if you want “good data”, get good data people. That means people not too clouded by a particular “need” for a specific outcome, or strong beliefs in how things are or “should be”, “will be” or “always have been”.

You need an open, curious mind to interpret data fully — and to hear it’s interpretation– without delusion.

It seems too much of the world prefers to downplay their role in strategic decisions when things go bad and paint data as only so much smoke and mirrors.