You’re smart, strategic and you know you want to start making more data-driven decisions. If you’re just getting started, you may notice that there are many nuances involved in making data-driven decisions. If you don’t pay attention to these nuances, it’s possible for you to interpret the data as saying something it isn’t. The nuance we’re focused on today that will lead you in the direction of more accurate data-driven decisions is an N.
If there is only one, N doesn’t stand for nice
What is an N? You ask. It’s really just a fancy way of saying the number of examples you have. Whether it’s the number of patients in a clinical trial or the number of times you’ve tried posting a social media post.
Remember this phrase. “An N of one is not a representative sample.” You say this when someone talks about a single time something happened as justification for not doing it again. If you want to be nicer, more focused on a solution and less esoteric, go with something like, “That’s fascinating! Let’s do some more experimenting with that,” instead of, “An N of one is not a representative sample.” Although, if they’re talking about that one time they did something that got HR called, this isn’t the phrase to use. If they’re talking about how one time they posted a Facebook post on a Tuesday and it received zero likes when all the posts they put up on Wednesday received ten likes, that’s the time to say, “an N of one is not a representative sample.”
What exactly does that phrase mean? It means that if something happens just one time, it could very easily be a fluke. Maybe everyone’s internet happened to be out, or they were all out looking at the eclipse on that Tuesday.
How many N’s do you need?
You’ve convinced the others in your meeting to do some more experimenting, but how many N’s constitute a representative sample? It depends on the situation, but 35 is a great goal. In some situations, five to ten examples can really start to tell you something.
There are many more nuances beyond the N that are important to understand about data. While you can and should rely on analytics experts to tell you some of this, having familiarity with the basic principles of data-driven decision making will allow you to make more informed decisions and ask deeper questions when you see a data dashboard. Ideally, this will lead you to more informed decisions that can lead to better outcomes.