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    The 8 of 10 Paradox

    March 31st, 2011

    An eight – above average but falling short of the best. This is what I find when I ask people about their Excel skills.  In fact I would wager that this is what most people would say about their skills with any tool provided one thing.  The sole criteria for being an 8 is that they have used the tool enough such that their usage would be self-defined as frequent or occasionally (as opposed to used once or once a year).  The problem is, of course, that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon.  But if you ask people, person after person will tell you an 8.

    I am not immune to this.  In fact, I claim to be an 8 of 10 in the business non-statistical application of Excel.  To me this means that I am not responsible for knowing the advanced mathematical and statistical formulas used in Excel, nor do I know how to write advanced VBA code from scratch.  What it does mean is that I know my way around PivotTables (and getpivot – both syntax options), am well versed in formatting data/graphs, can use a variety of text formulas (len, mid, right, left, proper, etc.), lookup formulas (vlookup, hlookup, index, etc.) and other advanced worksheet formulas (indirect, match, find, search, sumif, etc.), know how to create a dynamic named range, write basic VBA code, and create basic custom number formats (including if/then logic).

    I know that I have shortcomings as well.  I don’t have the syntax for custom number formats memorized, array formulas still take a bit to figure out (and I don’t often think to use them), my VBA skills could use some polish, there are a bunch of keyboard shortcuts I don’t have memorized, and I don’t use many advanced Excel Add-Ins that turn it up another notch.  I’m sure there are others, but the point is that I know I have room for improvement and see examples of really talented individuals when I read blogs or when I am searching for an answer to an issue.

    The point is that I feel like I am a well informed 8.  I am not saying I am an 8 because it just feels right.  I’m saying I’m an 8 because I put in time to learn what I don’t know.  I have been in rooms where I’m not the best, but clearly quite a bit more advanced than a large percentage of the room. And yes, I would wager money that I am not so smart that I can escape the unknown unknowns.  So I am an 8 and I know it for a fact.

    And hence the 8 of 10 Paradox.  Or, rather, the Downing Effect wherein “people with a below average IQ to overestimate their IQ, and of people with an above average IQ to underestimate their IQ” and “the ability to accurately estimate others’ IQ [is] proportional to one’s own IQ”.  Applied more broadly it is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    So remember, as you go through life, people will always be comparing themselves to others.  Knowing your results in comparison to the average just makes us feel better.  But there will be times when there is not quick test score to compare; no easy benchmark to measure against.  There will only be an opinion.  At that moment you should really stop, be honest with yourself, and consider which side of the Dunning-Kruger effect you are on.

    I give this post an 8/10.  What would you give it?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.



    MBA: Incremental Value

    October 16th, 2009

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine the other day on which programs to apply to for an MBA.  If you have read my prior post you know that I am a fan of just going and getting the best GMAT score that you can; don’t worry about it too much.  Do your best and you’ll be fine.

    So, why do I think that just doing your best on the GMAT will lead you toward the right program?  The reason is quite simple actually.  You don’t take Calculus 3 when you have never had Calculus 1.

    While each individual has there own reasons to get an MBA, a common theme is to improve oneself – however you want to define that.  My thought is that your GMAT score will give you a good idea of where you will get in.  Don’t beat yourself up over getting into a top 10 school.  And, going back the the Calculus example, here’s why.

    If you apply yourself on the GMAT, and have no special conditions, you will have a score that – more or less – is an indication of your ability (yes, there are many exceptions).  That means that if you have a 500 level score, Harvard is probably not looking good.  But take a moment to think about it like a Calculus class.

    A student should not try and get in the most advanced class that they can get into with no regard to the level of their knowledge in the subject matter.   This we can all agree on but then some people hold a different standard to an MBA program.  The reality is that an individual new to calculus will get the same incremental value to themselves in a Calc 1 class as a more advanced person will get from a Calc 3 class.  If the goal is to improve yourself by X%, then both the Calc 1 student and the Calc 3 student will achieve their goals.  Either student going in the other’s class will make them fall short of their goal.

    Therefore, be realistic about what schools you can get into.  Don’t view a non-top 10 school as a failure or a shortcoming.  The goal of an MBA isn’t to get a top 10 school on your resume (or at least shouldn’t be the main goal).  The goal is to improve yourself.  There are many levels of ability which means that there are many levels of programs that will all give the same incremental benefit to the individual at all of the different levels.

    It is like the marathon I ran.  Just finishing was the goal.  I was happy with my time, but I’m sure an Olympic marathoner would not have been happy with that time.  The point is the same.  Different goals for different people.  A lower ranked school may be a better overall fit, and deliver more incremental value to the individual, than a top 10 school might.

    If you have found yourself discouraged about your GMAT score and the schools you might get into, maybe this gives you a fresh perspective.

    What do you think about a MBA program’s incremental value?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Today Was A Good Day

    September 23rd, 2009

    Every now and then you just have a day that is a good day. Today was that day for me. I think I might do a few posts on GMAT stuff just for the heck of it. Make sure to check back and see if I actually do that.

    Also, I found out that pinball is quite a bit of fun. I have to admit that I would still never spend money on it, but it is fun. Okay, I may spend like $0.25 but not whatever it is those places are charging these days.

    Which brings me to my final point, as much fun as they are, are arcade games on their last legs? Let me know what you think.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    SevenSnap: Watch Time, Money Fly Out Window

    August 31st, 2009

    Well folks, it looks like we have yet another ‘entertainment shopping’  site on our hands.  SevenSnap has thrown its somewhat different hat into the 3rd ring at this 3 ring circus we have.  We’ve previously covered Pennycave and Swoopo on this blog (found here and here) so what better place to cover SevenSnap.

    SevenSnap, at its core, is more like a XXX phone line or live show than anything else.  Rather than paying for bids and the risking getting nothing on the bids, SevenSnap charges you just to look at the item.  Yes, that’s right.  You have to pay just to get the chance to buy it.

    Here’s how it works.  A new item gets put up every 60 min.  You have to create an account and buy minutes to get into the ‘Snap Room’.  Yes, they actually call it that in their guide.  Once in the room, the price of the item drops by as much as $100 a min, based on the number of people in the room.

    Hold on; that sounds good for a second, but think about that.  They are capping the rate that it can drop to $100 a min, no matter how many people in the room.  If there is only 5 people it drops $5 a min, but if there are 1,000 people (or 5,000 for that matter) it only drops $100 a min.

    After you have paid to gain entry to the oh so wonderful Snap Room, you can ‘Snap’ the product at any time.  As you can tell, they spent a lot of time on the names of things.

    Once anybody in the room Snaps a product the price goes back up to the original amount and begins the price dropping anew.  So while you may try and get a good deal, the likely thing that will happen is that someone will ‘snap’ it before you, leaving you with nothing.  And remember, the price only drops every min – unsure how they deal with people joining at different times – so it is not constantly dropping, just in big chunks.  As with most of these sites, most people will lose out.

    The worst part here is that there isn’t even risk to SevenSnap.  If you buy it right away they get their asking price and then sell another one.  If you don’t buy right away, the price is only dropping if people are paying.  So they are still fine.  They determine their minimum margin from the start and then anybody that is in the room over 100 (since the price decline caps a $100 a min) is gravy.

    I would stay away from this, just as I would every other ‘entertainment shopping’ site.  Go buy a lotto ticket, your odds of coming out ahead are probably better.  At least SevenSnap is limited to the iPhone and iPod Touch.  This way a few extra people will save their money.

    So do you think this and other ‘entertainment shopping’ sites are a scam?  Let me know your thoughts below.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.  (Hat tip to TechCrunch for their post)


    Walker House Dies…Oh, College Days

    July 20th, 2009

    I have been out of college for around two years now and, amazingly, I am having the same issues with community sustainability in my new location as I did back in college.  This is both frustrating and a bit sad.  Here’s the basic problem, there are only certain times of the year where ‘fun’ businesses make money and so they just don’t make the cut long term.

    This is a huge problem at UW-Whitewater.  The city literally loses half its population every summer to the departing masses of students.  Now this is hedged a bit by the fact that 1/2 the students go home on the weekends anyway (with weekend being Thursday to Sunday).  So really even though you have these masses of consumers, it is very hard to make any money because 50% of the time you are way under capacity and 50% of the time you are way over.  And, to make matters worse, often times the demands that college students have are so far out of alignment with the demands of the local population that there is little to no crossover in activity interests.  This makes an already tough situation that much tougher.

    A similar thing appears to happen in Dodgeville (and surrounding community).  There are huge amounts of hotel capacity and stores that depend on tourist traffic.  The problem?  Who is coming to WI for a vacation in the winter?  And how can cute, fun, but out of the way places draw traffic if there isn’t a constant stream of people?

    There are great businesses that just can’t make it.  Great restaurant, like the Walker House in Mineral Point, WI- to whom this post is dedicated to, don’t get the traffic they need to make it.  I have great memories of the Walker House in the short time I have been here.  I ate my post-marathon meal there.  I tried to bring in new customers as often as I could.  They even started to know my name, and most definitely knew exactly what I was going to order (Patty Melt w/ the best homemade fries you have ever had).  Heck, they even remembered that I was always bringing someone new.  It had atmosphere.  It had class.  It didn’t have traffic.

    The Walker House is now closed and looking for a partner.  I think that they have many of the right components, but just fall short on a marketing and business plan.  It would be interesting to do some discovery and see what it would take to open up again or what sorts of sales they had when they were open.  Just a thought.

    This just leaves me with that buring question, how is it that some small out of the way restaurants can make it and by word of mouth they get more traffic than they can handle while other places with equally good food and atmosphere can’t generate the same thing.  The only conclusion I can think of is a concept that I read about in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Basically you need somebody to love the place that knows people and will spread the word.  You need a reliable and passionate brand advocate.  I guess Walker House just didn’t have enough of them.

    Do you know any great restaurants that are out of the way?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Does Your Brand Speak For Itself?

    May 8th, 2009

    0164_3665_347All brands have some sort of logo, even if it is just a stylized version of the brand itself.  It is something that people see and can recognize instantly.  The real question is how much does a brand speak for itself without a visible logo.  Can you tell the car is nice just by looking at it?  Does the shirt look comfortable?  Does the toy look fun and durable?

    A good brand will stand out beyond a logo.  Too often in the apparel industry for young adults (whatever that means) is so over the top in the amount of branding that it just looks silly.  A logo on the shirt is one thing.  A leather patch on the waist band of the jeans is fine.  But then they take it to the next level.

    Take the shirt at the top of this post.  You will not have any problem telling where it is from, but really?  This is style?  I guess I got it confused with a billboard.  Other brands are just as bad.  AE, A&F, Aero, etc. are just a few.  But there is hope.

    I have recently been enjoying Express shirts because they don’t blare the brand.  They just let the uniqueness of the shirts speak for themselves.  It could be viewed as a missed opportunity to brand.  I view it as a sign that they are confident enough in their product that they don’t need to do anything as bad as AE did with their shirt.

    What do you think of branded shirts?  What is okay and what is too far?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Gaps In The Stalls

    April 23rd, 2009

    bathroomAs an analyst I can’t help but try and figure out why something is done a certain way if it doesn’t seem immediately logical.  Sometimes these thoughts are fleeting and other times they keep nagging me.  The nagging thoughts tend to be the ones that seem totally illogical; that no thought or reason has been put into the things I am observing.  I always think that I must be missing something.

    One that has been nagging me for far too long is the gaps in the bathroom stalls.  I just cannot figure it out.  Google searches leave me with no definitive answer – but there is interesting conversation about it here.  So I turn to you, my readers, to answer this question.  This is an issue that really needs to be solved.  This is our privacy people!  There’s not all that much left of it in the world (I say as I sit here and blog about my thoughts).

    In case you have not recently been in a bathroom stall at work, school, or any other place that has public facilities I will break it down for you.  There seems to be some sort of engineering gaff that nobody has noticed.  The door that are supposed to keep out eyes from outside have large gaps around the edges of the door.  In some cases they are as large as an inch!  Now that may not seem like much, but at a distance of just a few feet it is enough to see plenty through the gap.

    Now lets be clear, I am not talking about the gaps on the bottoms of the stalls.  This makes for easier cleaning and whatnot.  I get it.  I’m not talking about the gaps between the stalls and the ceiling.  Clearly this is for ventilation so that things can air out.  Or maybe so that those automatic air fresheners have an easier time of perfuming in the stalls.  Whatever the specific reason, it makes sense.

    I am not even talking about the gaps between the stall walls and the wall.  Again, I don’t know the specific reason.  I can only guess.  Perhaps it has something to do with caulking it, or cleaning it, or ventilation, or to pass notes when you don’t want to go under the stall.  Really, I don’t care.  There is nothing to see against the back wall.

    My issue is with the door.  Doors exist so they can be closed.  Now I don’t expect it to be a perfect fit.  I understand that there is more cost with a tight fitting door.  But these things can be mass produced to a greater extent than a 1 inch gap on each side, right?

    Or, if you don’t want to worry about a close fitting door, then put a nice big strip of plastic on the side of that door that opens (e.g. if it opens out when in the stall, have the plastic on the outside).  That way not only with the gap be non-visible, but you will not have to deal with tight doors or anything else.  The cost of a plastic strip in comparison to the cost of the total structure ($250 – $1,000) cannot be all that much.

    And to address a final concern – I won’t even complain very loudly if these bathroom gaps existed at truly public places such as restaurants, subways, and parks.  But in corporate offices people?  There are no concerns about what graffiti or activities might happen there.  So really, what’s the deal with the gaps?

    Have you ever wondered this?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Looking At The Long Term

    February 3rd, 2009

    I was reading this interesting article over at CNN about how Cannon is urging its workers to “go home and multiply.”  The issue, it is hypothesized, is that a 12-hour workday is common.  This leads to people being too tired to ‘multiply’ and now Japan is sitting at a 1.34 birth rate.

    The problem here is that this fails to look at the long term goal.  Or rather, fails to take a global perspective into account.  News flash: the world is not getting any bigger and we cannot continue to expand for forever.  We already have resource shortages in many parts of the world and solving those problems will only lead to more of the same problems unless the culture is changed along with the food and medical supply.  We don’t need to continue to increase the global population to be successful.  In fact, it is probably the opposite (for more information on this topic read Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed).

    Watch out or this same thing can happen to your website.  It is easy to focus on what is perceived as growth.  It is easy to test and then restructure things to optimize.  But what does that mean for you long term?  Are you changing your culture along with your site?

    Here’s what I mean.  If you find out that you can make the most money by showing a certain product on your homepage, that’s great.  You make money right now; you are ‘growing’.  But what about your other products?  If you do not step back and look at the long term impacts of your decisions you will find your company so far down the rabbit hole it will take MAJOR resources to change the direction of your brand.  Just because something makes the most money now does not mean that it will make the most money from a “lifetime value of a customer” view.

    Similarly, if a company only can focus on the growth rate (immediate or lifetime value) of a particular product or line the company will miss HUGE opportunities in other parts of the business.  Just as Japan could increase the incentive of immigration if they wanted more people, your company should be looking at all of your product lines and options for growth.

    The failure to see other opportunities can be devastating to a company.  Once you become a single product company, you are in a very tough spot (unless you have also changed your culture to match i.e. you only make one product but everybody in the world knows it is the best of all similar product by competitors).  Know your resources.  Consider the larger picture and the long term goals of the organization.  And try not to put in too many 12 hour days.

    Is your company or website growing the right way?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    eBay Continues Changes

    October 23rd, 2008

    eBay is once again changing the way it does business by adding more restrictions to its sellers.  Remember when eBay added in the features that allowed a buyer to rate a seller on several categories?  Well now eBay is using that as a basis to say if sellers can continue to sell.

    This excerpt from BizWeek illustrates it quite well:

    In a nutshell, eBay wants its sellers to keep a 4.3 or above (out of 5-star) composite average on several metrics on which customers leave feedback. The most controversial is the shipping and handling feedback. A 4 in this metric means “reasonable,” but if a seller starts getting mostly 4s, eventually that will pull her overall rating down below 4.3. If a buyer rates the shipping charges as “neutral” (3) or “unreasonable” (2)—even if that perception is mistaken—the seller’s ratings will plummet and her account can be suspended. Sellers do have 30 days to increase their rating while they’re suspended, but if they’re not selling, it’s obviously tough to get better feedback.

    It is clear that eBay really does not want to be in the auction business anymore.  These new rules make it very difficult for sellers, and exceptionally difficult for low volume sellers, to stay compliant.  All it takes is one or two disgruntled buyers and you are screwed.  I am glad that I got out while things were still not all that bad.

    These sort of changes make me wonder though.  A business always has to be evolving or they risk being left behind.  You have to find new opportunities or niches to fit in to have growth.  But what if you lose your core competency while doing so?  Are you so focused on growth that you would risk the thing that made you great?

    eBay was known as a place for auctions.  That was what they were good at.  As they move toward a model that is now focused on Fixed Prices not auctions, I think they are giving up more than they realize.  It is easy to blame the lower profits on the economy now, but I would think this would be a time for eBay to shine.  People are selling stuff they don’t need and also looking for stuff at a good price.  As eBay continues to make these changes I wonder if the current economic circumstance is clouding eBay’s view of the business model they are chasing after.  Then again, maybe eBay is positioning itself to take on Amazon.  This could get interesting.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.


    Should ‘Visit’ Metric Be Updated?

    September 15th, 2008

    Interruption is a way of life here in America. I remember reading somewhere that in Japan if a person is working by themselves they are not as likely to be interrupted because it is assumed that they are in thought whereas in America if you are working by yourself it means you are available because it is assumed you are not busy. Not sure if that is true or not, but I know that if I see someone at their desk I will talk to them if I need them. I always ask if they have time, but I still ask because – in famous final words fashion – it will only take a second.

    How does this relate to web analytics? It relates because of the definition of a visit. If you are new to web analytics, you may wonder “What is a visit?”.  Web Trends Live has an excellent glossary of terms which is where I pulled this definition from:

    Visit: A visit is an interaction a unique visitor has with a website over a specified period of time or activity. In most cases, if a visitor has left a site or has not executed a click within 30 minutes, the visit session will terminate.

    My question is, is this the correct length of time? Should it be longer than 30 min because of how many distractions/interruptions we have in a day? I read a great interview at FastCompany.com about how often people get interrupted at work. The average time between switching tasks was 3 minutes and 5 seconds. That is a lot of moving around. It took an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to something they switched from.

    This would give credence to the 30 minute rule that is laid out for us, but I still have to wonder if it is correct. I think that with tab browsing people are more likely to have a longer lag time between looking at one page and looking at another. I think that since the onset of ‘restore session’ – when you open up a browser that you previously exited with multiple tabs active – lag times between activity have increased. ‘Fires’ come up at work and need to be handled, e-mails come in, the phones ring, etc. The reality is that while a person may be idle for 30 min they would say that it was one visit. This begs the question of who defines a visit, the web site or the viewer?

    My main concern is that this time frame may skew some data that looks at visits by a visitor for a given period of time. Perhaps you will get data that says people visit your site multiple times in one day – probably considered a good thing – when really you just can’t keep a visitors attention and they keep having a 30 min or more delay in between their activity. This would actually then be a bad thing because you are not keeping the viewer involved which may discourage them from coming back.

    Clearly an industry needs standards and, honestly, web analysts are lucky to have any standards at all in a field that changes so quickly while being so young. That said, hanging on to old standards just for the sake of standards isn’t such a great policy either. It doesn’t need to change today, but it is something to keep thinking about as browsing habits evolve.