The snapshot is not the game

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What’s about to happen here?

Celtics Game at the Boston Garden

Shaquille O’Neal is making a free throw in a Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics game. From this picture, can you tell the outcome of the throw?

Can you tell the outcome of the next 2 minutes of this game?

How about the outcome of the game itself?


What would make you think you can tell the outcome of the week, the month, or the quarter from a snapshot of your web analytics any better than you can tell the outcome of this game from a single frame of time? That’s what you’re doing every time you make predictions based on a quick look at your web analytics in the short term.

Even a look at recent data would be unrevealing. Here’s the game up to this point (O’Neal missed the free throw, by the way):

Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics - Play By Play - February 07, 2007 - ESPN

Could you predict firmly who will win at the time that O’Neal made this free throw? Not at a 34-31 spread. It’s certainly not enough to bet on, even though you have 5% of the game’s data right on screen and you’re 37% of the way through the game (6 minute mark in the second quarter). Yet how many marketing managers and CMOs have looked at a month’s worth of data or a quarter’s worth of data and made predictions about how their year will end?

Don’t be fooled by snapshots of data. They look terrific, they look compelling, they make for great slides in your reporting deck, but they don’t come remotely close to telling the whole story, any more than the picture that started this post could tell you that the Miami Heat beat the Boston Celtics 91 to 79. Do the hard work and the detailed analysis, get as much relevant data as you can, and if you’ve got someone demanding game-winning predictions based on a snapshot of data, please feel free to share this blog post with them to showcase why that request isn’t reasonable.

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One response to “The snapshot is not the game”

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    John Smith


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