Lessons learned – again

A bar chart built from blocks, on top of a paper with a graph chart, and a pie chart.

A Mail and Guardian reporter wrote that this January has already been 3 months long. My week has certainly been long enough to count for next week as well.

It might be the "back-to-work" syndrome, but I think it's also "load-shedding syndrome". Is that a thing? It should be a thing. Load-shedding affects our state of mind as well as everything else.

Beware the pretty pictures

Life teaches us lessons all the time. Sometimes we need to learn them more than once. Maybe I'm forgetful (yes, getting older), but I needed a reminder of lessons I should know by now.

I consulted as a project manager for many years. Every client wanted reports with graphs and charts. Forget the words - they wanted pictures.

Senior management don't have time to read. They want to see at a glance whether the project is on track and within budget.

There's an old adage: "A picture is worth a thousand words". Which is true, except when it isn't. A more accurate idiom might be: "The devil is in the details". And the details are not in the graph.

The reliance on graphs always frustrated me a little. The truth about graphs is that we can manipulate that "at a glance" impression. Use one scale, and the outlier is irrelevant. Change the scale, and the outlier is significant.

And yet, despite my strong opinion on this, I did just that. I relied on the pretty coloured lines in a graph, instead of thinking about the numbers.

You see what you're expecting to see

I track our electricity meter readings. My spreadsheet calculates things like daily and monthly average consumption, to identify deviations.

At the end of 2019 we installed solar panels. It wasn't enough to take us off grid, but it reduces our Eskom bill. The system has a web app to track solar generation. I confess that I didn't track these stats until load-shedding hit ridiculous levels last year.

The multi-line graphs showed exactly what the solar installers told us to expect. I took them at face value. Then Charles played around - removing first one line on the graph, and then the other. That changed my perspective on what I was seeing, and I realised I needed to look at the numbers themselves. Now I have lots of questions for the solar guys.

We believe we are rational thinkers, but that's not accurate. Our expectations colour our perception and understanding of reality. Those expectations can be our personal belief system, or simply what someone told us. (If you're interested or disagree, do some research on "cognitive bias".)

A lesson in mindfulness

One of my fur-babies has been at the vet since Sunday. If you're not a pet person, you won't understand. But the pet-lovers will know this is very upsetting.

I've been to visit the patient in the late afternoons. Being me, I took my Kindle along to read while I sat at the vet. But all I did was cuddle my sad little cat. No reading. No thinking about to-do lists. No planning or worrying about work. Just being in the moment.

Mindfulness and meditation are good for us. But my natural state of mind is busyness. I find it very difficult to do nothing. I'm practicing. First I set my cellphone timer so that I don't keep checking if I've managed 15 minutes yet. Then I lie outside on the grass and look at the tops of the trees. I'm not sure if this counts as meditation. It seems to improve my state of mind for a while - until the generator starts up. Maybe this is another tool in our fight against load-shedding syndrome.

What do you think about graphs? And load-shedding syndrome? Is it a thing? I'd love to read your views.

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