The beauty of data visualization

David McCandless discusses the beauty of data visualization . . . before you say, “This doesn’t sound like something I’d ever care about,” let me put it another way. He can tell you when you are going to get dumped.

That might have some advantages.

The video is all about making numbers more relevant. Presenting the actual data in a way that tells the story you need to know rather than the dry statistic. He makes an otherwise almost unbearable statistics world come to life in storyboard form.

An example of what this might look like in the world at large based on a topic we’ve discussed here before – Gender and Mathematics skill level.

Have you heard that girls are bad at math? Many of my female students have, but that’s not the whole story. Take a look at this chart.

The reality is, at the extremes, men outperform. At the extremes. In other words at the very top end and at the very bottom of the math skill range, there are more men. But looky here in the middle of the range. More women do better through the average and above average ranges than men do.

So the story isn’t that women are bad at math. Far from it. On average, women are better at math than men. BUT, at the top end of the range, the very highest math skill levels, there are twice as many men as women. A totally different story.

Turns out it isn’t that boys are smarter or dumber, it’s that several brain focused genes sit on the X chromosome. Girls have two Xs and as a consequence can mute the extremes. Boys have one X and one Y and therefore cannot mute the extremes. Boys will demonstrate more variability than girls as a consequence. This translates to twice as many men in the top 1% AND twice as many men in the bottom 1%.

His TED talk is inspiring. Loved the bubble graph at minute 13. Enjoy!

For a better understanding of data – how to read and interpret: The Flaw of Averages, by Sam Savage
For more on the the educational testing gap between boys and girls (8th graders): National Assessment of Educational Progress

Proper Telephone Etiquette – Sales Matter

The question of the week concerns telephone etiquette and an obnoxious co-worker . . .

I work in a 3 person office. there is one co-worker who feels she is the boss and can make changes at will because she is older and has the most seniority. However, we all hold equal positions. This co-worker has decided to answer all calls on our main line on the first ring. If the call is not for her she tells the customer in the future please call on their priviate number making the customer feel badly and apologetic. Yet we dare not do her calls that way for fear of her lashing out. Please let us know how to handle this delicate situation. (Using proper telephone etiquette).

Okay, so normally I suggest you handle things among each other and avoid getting “management” involved . . . THIS however is not one of those times. Here’s the distinction. Your co-worker is upsetting clients. If that’s true, that is very, very bad. If she’s irritating you, well, that’s too bad. but if she’s irritating clients . . . I’d fire her. Seriously, she’d get 2 reprimands and then be asked to leave. That straightforward. No joke.

Making a customer feel inferior, inadequate or otherwise uncomfortable about working with your company – that is an offense for which I have no trouble writing a pink slip – the sooner the better. Your customers create your jobs. Hers too. She needs an officer of the company to help her understand this reality. If she chooses to answer the main line on one ring, great. But she must understand appropriate protocol for directing callers to the appropriate party, pleasantly.

If I were in your shoes, I would speak with the director of HR or (if you are without a true HR – is the 3 person office the only office or are you part of a larger company?) the highest ranking officer who will listen to you with patience. If it is just the 3 of you, who owns the most of the company – that person gets to be in charge. Explain how she is answering the phones. Explain (most importantly) how customers are relating the experience to you. If the HR director or company officer is blase about the situation,

1. They don’t think it is a problem. You work for a sinking ship – get out asap.
2. They don’t believe you – you do not have credibility at your company . . . get out even faster if you value your sanity.
3. They don’t have the power to do anything about it – go higher. Find that person’s superior. The owner of the company will care.

If you can, explain the problem in terms of cash flow. Has she actually cost you additional sales on a client account? Can you quantify it? Existing clients are the easiest to gain additional sales from . . . so, anyone that interferes with growing sales among existing clients is costing your company big time. Think about it this way:

In a service practice, it may cost an average of $429 to acquire a new client. But it costs almost $0 to sell that same client the newest version, latest update, etc. So additional sales to the same account cost $429 less to acquire.

Find out the numbers for your company (your controller/CFO will know). What is your client acquisition cost? What is the sales to existing client ratio? It’s more work than sitting around complaining, but it makes you a valuable voice. Anyone who let’s an employee berate a client is a fool. She must be reprimanded. Period.

Customers are not gods, and they don’t always know best, but they do pay your bills.

(That being said, some customers are not worth keeping so if your boss doesn’t do anything, maybe the offending office mate knows how to get rid of the bad ones. It’s only a problem if she’s driving off the good ones.)

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

-Miss Mentor

Tweeters Beware

What you know can indeed hurt you. Twitter has not only coined a new verb, to tweet (tweet, tweeting) and a new noun, Tweeter, one who tweets, but also created an environment for snoops to learn far more about you than you may ever want learned….

With the crazy popularity of Twitter and Facebook, private investigators are no longer needed to dig up the goods. The Financial Times interviewed divorce attorney, Linda Lea Viken who is apparently a fan of the services.

“We used to use PIs, and occasionally got incriminating pictures. Now we just look on Facebook. It’s cheaper, and it’s usually better. Instead of getting pictures taken from outside the houses, I get pictures taken inside.”

Facebook dirt even came up on the most recent season of the Bachelorette – Justin, the crazy Wrestler dude, had told his girlfriend at home to stay off Facebook . . . apparently he had another gf on Facebook. And both ladies knew he was “chasing” Ali on the show . . . um, hello . . . red flag anyone? Anyway, when non-Facebook gf signed into the service she discovered the ruse. Justin hobbled off the show through shrubbery to avoid Ali’s wrath.
Justin into the shrubbery, 40s

If you think that private message are not admissible . . . think again. That’s why the attorneys are having a field day with social networking sites. Most of the information is super public – as in, anyone can see it at anytime – even if you have a privacy setting (“only show wall to friends,” etc.) and what is not super public requires very little work to uncover. All of it is considered admissible in court should you ever need know that….

But, you’re not worried about having an affair discovered, you’re just a regular joe or jane working to pay the bills, trying to make a good life, right?

It’s even worse for you!

HR departments are using the sites as well. If you have hopes of executive level appointments, you’d better be particularly careful. Look at what happened with Mark Hurd, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard. He was accused of misconduct and relieved of his post when it hit social sites. The fiasco started in April and agreement was reached by both sides by June without any fanfare – the Board was already well aware of the situation. But it was leaked to the media and then spread like wildfire in July. Miraculously, the Board was no longer able to see Mark as credible . . . I can’t see that Board as credible, but that’s a different bone to pick for a different day.

What you say, can and will be copied and pasted across the kingdom.

Is it Okay to Ignore a Staff Member?

Today’s question concerns office hierarchy. Is it okay to be rude?

I am an Office Coordinator, (office manager), Technical staff memeber has a visitor from the outside in.
Tech staff is going around making introductions and totally side steps me – do I have a right to feel upset and annoyed with him?  He made me feel very unimportant and worthless. –SH

I hear you SH, there is nothing more insulting than having someone who is making introductions walk right past you as though you are invisible. You have a couple of options,

1. You can get upset and proceed to sabotage future projects/deliverables/connections for the offender. You are the office manager, you probably have access to behind the scenes things….

2. You can calmly connect to the offender, face-to-face (email just won’t work here), and let him/her know that you appreciate feeling a part of the team (give an example of a time when he/she made you feel a part of the team, really stretch if you have to) and would he/she mind also introducing you to visitors so you can continue to contribute as a team member. Key word to use is appreciate. You appreciate him/her. Second key concept is to plant the idea that having you know who the visitor is will help you help the team.If you have to, approach it from the angle that the visitor may want to know who you are because you can help him/her get settled in if necessary – an extended visit for example.

3. You can rattle to HR about the offender.

So, based on amount of text alone, you can probably guess my advice, #2.

As much fun as #1 is to think about, it won’t help you. If anything it will set you into a negative passive aggressive cycle that brings everyone down. More likely it will get you fired . . . quickly.

As for #3, forget it. Yes, you can get a negative file started, but you just don’t have the pull that a more technical and or senior staff member has. The reality is that an office manager in theory is easier to replace than a technical staff member. Mind you that is IN THEORY.

I think a great office manager is gold and practically impossible to replace. You want to become that kind of office manager if you aren’t already. Really get yourself inserted into the revenue value chain – can you help the grant writers? Can you help the other staff members who are bringing in the research dollars? Get yourself valuable to the folks who actually control the incoming cash for the company.

SIDE NOTE: I recognized the company SH works for – they are a research firm that depends (Largely? Completely?) on “donated” monies. The last bit hold for everyone though, get as close to the incoming cash as possible. If you generate revenue or are vital to those who do, you become very, very hard to replace.

By the way, I am looking for an office manager. In Dallas. For real.

Give Us Names

When I was in b-school many moons ago, I had the opportunity to do a project with the UN High Commission on Refugees. But, the UN being rather UN-y meant delays, shifting of focus and other shenanigans for which I have zero patience. So . . . our group of 4 did what any group of b-schoolers would do, we brought the project to a for profit company.

Zero pay is zero pay, but if you’re going to work your butt off, you want to make sure you’ll have a finished product.

So we hitched up with Dupont and changed the project from designing lego-like housing for refugees from locally available, sustainable materials to creating culturally and structurally appropriate building blocks for displaced people. The idea was to create pieces folks could take home when it was safe to return home. We provided the product development, research and early brain power and some training for staff members taking over from us. Then we all scattered to our various post b-school worlds.

Fast forward to May 2010. I was in Atlanta teaching. Between my hotel and conference room, I met the most charming cabbie. Turns out he is working with displaced people in Columbia. What a small world.

Over 3,000,000 people have been forced from their homes, their land and their businesses. Zack’s group is doing something about it.

In 2 minutes they can give you a better idea of what’s up. Give us names.

Dating Advice

I recently connected with John McPherson, the creator of Close to Home and he has been kind enough to share a great dating cartoon with Miss Mentor readers. This one displayed in March 2010 and I just about spewed my tea when I saw it – I had that very weekend had a totally obnoxious date and this . . . was  . . . just . . . perfect. If you’ve ever had a rude date . . .

Naturally it would be much better to avoid rude dates, but things happen. 🙂


John McPherson is the cartoonist and creator of Close To Home, a single panel cartoon that appears in over 700 papers worldwide.  Among them are the Washington Post, The NY Daily News, the Miami Herald and the Tokyo Times.

After receiving a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a BA in English from Bucknell University in 1983, John started a job as a design engineer in Albany, NY.  It was during this time that he began toying around with cartoons as a hobby. Engineer by day, artist by night, John developed a thriving career as a freelance artist, working for magazines such as Campus Life magazine, Yankee, and the Saturday Evening Post.  In 1990, he left engineering to work full-time as a cartoonist.  Close To Home debuted in November of 1992 in 50 papers and has since become one of the most popular single panel cartoons in publication.  His work appears in book collections, calendars, an award winning line of greeting cards and many other licensed products. He speaks regularly to groups around the country about cartooning and humor. In 1994 John received a lifetime achievement award from Bucknell. He is living the dream in Saratoga Springs, NY with his two sons.

iPad + Barbie + Career = Awesomely Pink

Barbie digs the iPad too!

Watch out Windows, this Barbie is a Mac.
“That is not an iPad carry case.”
-the fake Steve Jobs

Fueling suspicions of a Barbie and Steve Jobs collaboration, Apple remains decidedly quiet on the question, “Is that an iPad carry case in Barbie’s hand and did she get it before April 2?”

Barbie is pictured here with the secretive carry-case almost 2 months before other users were allowed to carry the device. Do super model good looks get early Apple products? Did Heidi Klum get an early release iPad? Are there scores of Russian and Brazilian models walking around NYC right now with the pre-release iPad?

No one knows for sure. When asked what was in her bag, Barbie replied that it was just a hot pink laptop. She proceeded to pull the hot pink plastic laptop out of her bag only to forget that it won’t turn on because it is plastic. She concealed the rest of the contents of the bag….

One thing is for sure, Barbie is now digging the geeks. If she were wearing a black turtleneck the Real Steve Jobs would’ve sued for trademark infringement.

But this is no joke. Barbie is now a Computer Scientist. The Wall Street Journal reports that the popular vote for Barbie’s next career is that of Computer Scientist. And none too soon,

“In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.”

As a former little girl with career aspirations, Barbie left a lot to be desired as a kid. Then again, I wasn’t really into dolls. I was a tree house and book kid. But I’m totally buying this one. She’s the new office Mascot once I put some proper heels on her. No one who looks that good should be in shoes that bad. Pink jellies, I don’t think so. But I digress, back to the issue at hand.

What about that iPad? Check out the carry case. That’s no Targus bag, that’s a case built for an Apple Product. It’s pretty, it’s streamlined, it’s silver. That’s mass produced high fashion. You don’t get that with a windows product.What more do you need to know?

Given Computer Scientist Barbie’s launch just after the Jobs iPad announcement . . . I’m betting on a behind the scenes collaboration between Barbie and Jobs.

Kate McKeon writes about basic economics and education at and teaches math for fun. She fully admits that she flirted with the TAs to get her Fortran programs written quickly in college. She is not a computer scientist.

Ask Miss Mentor

It’s here! Miss Mentor is back to answer your questions. After a “brief” vacation (work-over-whlem with her consulting practice) Miss Mentor is available again to help you sort through career and personal finance questions.

How should you ask your boss for a raise?

How should you tell your boyfriend to pick up his socks?

To 401k or not to 401k? What might be better for your situation….

Need some help with cocktail conversation – brush up on topics you know the dinner party will be discussing, look like the belle of the ball!

When you ask a question you can request to remain anonymous, but please consider keeping your name public. We like for you guys to know that it’s real people asking real questions. This ain’t no corporate beast cranking behind the scenes.

Send your questions to

Kate (at) MissMentor (dot) com

If we use your question, you’ll get a copy of our new book (e-book that is) due out June 1.

Get what you want!

Passive? Aggressively Not!

Employees tend to wait for some catalyst before expressing the need for a pay raise. Unfortunately that ends up looking more like passive aggressive behavior (not attractive) than “logical” though the hope is that explaining to the boss you need a pay raise because – choose any: baby is coming, getting married, buying house –  will appear logical.

It’s never logic.

You have needs – social, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual . . .

So trying to fit your need for more pay into the “logic” mode just doesn’t really cut it.

Instead of waiting, why not build the case on actual logic – like the value you provide to the company.

This is far more effective and if done well can’t be turned down. There is however one major potential problem. What if you are not actually generating value for the company . . . well, the following exercise will bring that to light so, don’t go there. Seriously.

First determine the key metrics for your company. How does your company make money? Who are the key customers? What are the most profitable products?

Are you facilitating these relationships? Are you supporting those who do? Are you making it easier for your company to generate more revenue? Are you the one generating more revenue? Get clear about your role and how directly you impact the bottom line. It is always easier to make a case when you directly generate the profit, but even a person in accounting (for non-accounting firms) can make a good case by observing how much contribution she adds to the process.

Let’s take the case of an accounting person at a construction firm – definitely not a “core” competency for a construction firm. So how does an accountant justify higher pay?

As an Accountant she will have access to the billings most like both those to vendors and those from clients. Doing her job of accounting is important and primary, but beyond that, she can extend herself to making suggestions about cost savings, ways to streamline vendor billing, (more importantly) client collections (nothing like getting cash in on time!), automated job site work-flow or wherever her imagination takes her. Any one of these ideas can drive additional profit to the bottom line.

But wait, those activities are already happening – how does that generate more profit?

Using the case of client collections, did you know thtat the faster you collect, the more likely your client is to pay in full? In tough economic climates, giving an incentive for a client to pay your bill first may mean you are the one who gets cash whereas the other folks your client owes get paid next or never. If you are totally on top of client billings you can make sure that your company receives the cash when it is needed, now.

And cash is always needed now.

Collecting quickly also means that even if your client will pay eventually, any short term loans you have on your books to complete the project must be carried as you wait for your client to pay. In other words, every day you wait for your client to pay is an interest payment out of your pocket.

It is also the case that every day you wait for a client to pay the less likely the client is to pay and the less the client will actually pay. And this isn’t just for delinquent clients. That’s true of good clients as well. You want to be the one they think of when they are cutting checks. You as the accountant can be that link.

So gather your data.

How many more clients paid on time because of a billing incentive you initiated? How much more did they pay on average? How much did you save in interest fees on your line of credit at the bank?

Make sense?

It all adds up to your ability to create additional profit dollars for your company.

So don’t wait for a personal event to determine what you want out of the company, build your value proposition from day 1. What are you giving that benefits the company. Then you will make your own market and may be able to get around the stratification that comes at many companies (level 1 accountant, level 2 accountant…), you might even get yourself your own title so you can set your pay independently. Nice!

Work hard!

The Original MissMentor – Debt Solutions got her started

Why is Miss Mentor the leading advice column for 20-30 somethings who are considering or who have just finished grad school. Debt solutions so you can get started building wealth. Started to help my brother and sisters make new fun mistakes instead of the boring ones I made!
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