We like things we are good at and we are good at things we intentionally practice.
Numbers are just characters in a story.
LoTR has Frodo. Stranger Things has Eleven. Batman has Batman. Tim Harford’s advice for better numeracy is to ask who is telling me this story and why are these the characters?
A clever example comes from the August 2022 episode of Acquisitions Anonymous where the hosts discuss a Vancouver white water rafting company. Business pitches use numbers to tell a story about why a business is worth a lot of money. Like a job interview or a date, it’s a polished version.
This particular pitch used a blended SDE (seller’s discretionary earnings) multiple. Rather than value the business on elevated 2021 numbers, the seller’s broker included 2019 & 2018. That is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and co-host Bill D’Alessandro pulled away the mask.
Yeah, Bill begins, blended earnings are often good but the 2021 Covid-19 bump is so large it pushes the weighted average higher than any other year. Pre-Covid-19 the SDE was around three-hundred-thousand-dollars but the weighted average is over five-hundred.
Averages, weighted or otherwise, work best with distributions like number of autos owned, Wordle guesses, or years of school.
Averages, weighted or otherwise, work terribly with distributions like financial wealth, number of testicles (an average of one), and movie revenue.
Stories work best with coherent characters. Number stories work best with coherent calculations. We are experienced with stories about people. We stop books, leave theaters, or stream something else if we don’t like the way things fit together.
We’ve so much less experience with numbers.
But now we have a little more. Thanks Bill.