Failing to grasp data

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Failing to grasp data

I had never known there were so many kinds of mayonnaise. What captured my eyes was the non-cholesterol mayonnaise.

I compared the nutrition facts of the non-cholesterol mayo and “Half Mayo,” a reduced-fat variety. The non-cholesterol mayo had 70 percent more calories and fat than Half Mayo. The manufacturer was not lying. Cholesterol and fat are two different things. But some consumers may think that they are both bad fats and make a misguided choice. Many don’t bother to check the nutrition facts every time. I left the store grumbling, “I’ll just eat less.”

Around this time, the deputy prime minister for the economy was replaced. The outgoing deputy prime minister summarized his accomplishments as “third in the world.” Among the 20 countries with per capita income over $20,000 and population over 20 million, Korea had the third-highest growth rate.

He was not lying. But third place is not the indicator that shows the core of the Korean economy. If he wanted to make a better representation of Korea’s real status, he should have compared us with countries that are caught in the structure of regional division of work. Or he could have compared the trends of adverse indicators in the low growth stage. Then, he could have shown the current status of the Korean economy.

The incoming deputy prime minister went to a market and said that “the Lunar New Year holidays are a chance to boost domestic consumption.” His rhetoric was even worse. He completely ignored the existing data. Increased online transactions would only reduce marketplace sales. It is not an economic issue but a structural problem. Has anyone heard a merchant in the market telling the deputy prime minister that the economy was not the worst? If the data with evident tendencies is ignored, we cannot get out of the cycle of complaints about the worst economy and empty promises for improvement.

But politics and policies need the language of the public. Sometimes, officials feign ignorance. What’s more frustrating is the repeated line by CEOs of large corporations to employees at the beginning of the year. Every time, they say it’s the “greatest crisis ever.” But it is doubtful if they have actually diagnosed the problem.

Internal and external situations of companies have become complicated. There are online and offline businesses, and competition surmounts borders.

The speed of change is very fast. As a result, it has become harder to understand the big picture and see through the core of problems. The chief executive officer has to be the chief understanding officer.

But the CEO cannot read the fine print on nutrition facts all the time. Vast information has to be organized, and key pieces of information should be extracted and made into indicators with relevant titles. Leaders should be able to make fast and informed decisions by looking at the selected information. There are reasons why data scientists are paid enormous sums in developed countries.

The author is head of the digital team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 1, Page 30

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