The story of numbers

How numbers tell a story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

9th December 2020

Where my love of numbers comes from

For as long as I can remember numbers have been of great fascination to me. I can bet that if my classes at school had been asked “what do you think John will end up doing for a living?”, Accountant would have been very high on a very short list.

I had a discussion on Zoom a few weeks back with a new client. Towards the end of our meeting she asked the question, “so John, how long have you been interested in numbers?”

Apart from the surprise at being asked, amazed that she had read my profile, it was an easy question for me to answer.

How's Zat!

boy playing cricket

A lot of this enjoyment came strangely from my love of sport. In particular, the great English summer sport of Cricket. For anyone who follows cricket, they will know how many statistics are shown about every batsman, bowler, fielder, umpire and nowadays practically everything that’s ever moved at a cricket ground.

I always found these statistics fascinating, not just the actual number that was being displayed, but what that number told me about, for example, the particular player. From there it goes deeper into how that one-off statistic can also be misleading and using it in isolation may not tell you the whole truth.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics!

Jimmy Anderson, arguably England’s best ever bowler, holds the batting record for the greatest number of innings by an England batsman, from the start of their Test Match career to the first time they were out for nought. You may think then, that he must be a great batsman as well as a great bowler, because that’s what the number is telling you

Until you know that he also holds the record for the most noughts by an English batsman in Test Cricket history. Since he got that first one, he’s made quite a habit of it!

The truth is that he is, in fact, not very good at batting at all!

And that’s where numbers can tell a story, or perhaps paint a picture. That old saying “There are lies, damn lies and Statistics” springs to mind. My love of the use of numbers grew and grew.

Maths Genius? - No!

Mental Arithmetic

Now, I am not a Mathematical genius, it has always been more about the use of numbers than the calculation of them. Having said that, I used to enjoy doing the scoring for games of darts (pre-electronic scorecards) because that was a great test of my mental arithmetic skills, and a great way of learning how to quickly add-up, subtract, divide and multiply!

I still do the scoring for everyone when playing golf, because I can add up quicker than my playing partners. And I like the challenge of mental arithmetic.

In the last year of senior school, we had the option to do a statistics course and take an ‘O’ level exam (as they were called in my day) and I jumped at the chance. It was like a lesson from heaven for me.

Let me tell you a story

I still love listening to people, mainly politicians, who rattle off statistics to prove whatever side of the argument they are on. I find it fascinating how the same set of numbers can be interpreted so differently. And the nerd in me loves picking the holes in their interpretations, normally to find that both sides are manipulating the truth in a big way.

I suppose then it was a natural journey for me to end up in Accountancy. Surprisingly though Accountancy is not all about numbers, but they are still the part that I enjoy the most.

Numbers tell a story. My enjoyment comes from reading that story, discovering what it means, and most importantly, explaining it to my clients.

Numbers are such a crucial part of business. A lot of people do not like them, I get that. And that is where I can help.

Cricket scoreboard

My dream job has always been, and remains, to be the scorer on test match special on Radio 4 (now BBC Radio 5 Live sport’s extra most of the time). But until I get the call, I’m happy to work with my clients, to help them understand their numbers and continue my enjoyment of reading those stories.

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