Curiosity drives innovation on Groundhog Day

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Part of the innovation formula in Leading Innovation involves curiosity. We ask questions like, “what would happen if…?” and “what happened when I…?”

It’s Groundhog Day today, the day when Punxsutawney Phil emerges from whatever container he’s kept in and looks for his shadow. Legend has it, if he doesn’t see his shadow, spring is imminent; if he does, we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter.

Given the fun of Groundhog Day, and our shared interest in analytics and data, what would happen if we tried to assess how accurate Punxsutawney Phil actually was? How would we go about indulging our curiosity?

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club keeps records of what Phil and his successors have seen. Since 1951, he has seen his shadow 53 times, and not seen his shadow 12 times.

Our next question is – how did winter actually go? While we can download daily historical weather data from the US Government since 1776, crunching that amount of data for a blog post might be a bit onerous. However, we can look at the average snowfalls for a nearby weather station to get a sense of how the winter went, since the National Weather Service computes winter snowfalls from July of one year to June of the next.

What would happen if we plotted the years Phil saw his shadow versus the amount of snow that season? After all, if the groundhog sees six more weeks of winter, it’s reasonable to assume that we’d see more snowfall, right?

Well… not so much. Above, the orange lines are when Phil didn’t see his shadow, meaning spring is right around the corner. There’s no obvious pattern which says Phil’s assumption of 6 more weeks of winter is a reliable predictor of snowfall, or spring’s imminent arrival indicates less snow. If we calculate the median snowfall for when Phil sees his shadow, it’s 81.2 inches, whereas the median for when he doesn’t is 76.2 inches. A difference, but hardly irrefutable proof.

Indulging our curiosity can be a powerful tool for discovery and innovation. If you’re not asking yourself questions like, “what would happen if…?”, you’re not giving your mind permission to innovate. Ask this question as often as your work permits. See what answers you can find. You may surprise yourself!

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