Numbers Lie.

Numbers Lie.

60 Minute’s curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, used to begin his rants with, “Did you ever wonder…?” Rooney would then go on to excoriate whatever or whomever was bothering him that week. Sometimes Rooney’s screeds made me laugh and sometimes they made me mad. But Rooney’s outbursts always made me think. My goal with this post is to shoot for all three. If I only make it past one or two, that’s okay too.

Numbers Lie

You ever wonder about people who misuse the word “literally”? As in the friend who shows up late for your lunch date and announces, “Dude, I’m, like, literally starving.

No, you’re not. If you were literally starving, you’d be laying on the ground too weak to move and in enormous pain.

Or the friend who tells you not to worry because they “literally have your back.”

Also wrong. Literally having your back would mean they were gripping you from behind.

Instead, they are figuratively starving and they figuratively have your back. The words they use are simply illustrations of the idea they’re trying to get across not actual depictions of what’s going on.

I got to thinking about this pet peeve this morning when one of my running buddies handed me an ad for a local South Florida HMO. It read: “513,000 PEOPLE CAN’T BE WRONG. That’s how many of your Florida neighbors already have (our) Medicare Advantage.”

That’s a headline that’s both literally AND figuratively wrong.

Of course 513,000 people can be wrong. Just because a large number of people actually do something does not make it right.

Variety Magazine says 3.19 million viewers tuned into Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

The BBC estimates that over one billion around the world smoke cigarettes.

And CNN says almost 63 million people voted for Donald Trump.

How’s that working out for you?

Whether or not choosing the health plan is a good decision, the headline is simply incorrect. 513,000 people can indeed be wrong. So can one billion. And so can any number of people in between.

Just because a lot of people do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Or as my mother used to ask, “If all your friends jumped off the roof, would you do it too?”

Since when does following the crowd result in anything more than a mediocre result?

Most people simply get what everyone else gets because they only do what everyone else does. Unlike the little town of Lake Woebegone “where all the children are above average,” most people do not get exceptional results because most people do not do exceptional things.

Average is average for a reason.

If you want to build your brand, build your business, or build your life, one of the first things to do is consider zigging while everyone zags. Whether you follow Roberto Peck’s The Road Less Traveled or Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, success seldom lies at the end of the obvious path.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


After all, if it were easy everyone would do it.

By | 2017-10-03T12:09:43+00:00 October 3rd, 2017|9 Comments


  1. Caroline de Posada October 4, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    So true!

  2. Jason Hewlett October 4, 2017 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Bruce, Great post as always. Thought provoking, funny, and always makes you go, “How am I doing things?” I literally read the whole thing, not figuratively. You’re the best Bruce.

  3. Tim Taylor October 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    I enjoy your essays, including the one today “Numbers Lie,” but I hit a rock on that diverging path at the end.

    Frost is often sly and ironic. The speaker first says he took the path that “was grassy and wanted wear,” but then immediately confesses that the feet of others “had worn them really about the same” and admits that both had “leaves no step had trodden black.” There’s really no difference between the two.

    The last stanza bears close reading. He says that as an old man (“in “ages and ages hence”), he “shall be telling this with a sigh,” (I picture him by a fire, boring his grandson), that he “took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

    I think the poem is about tricks of memory, retrospectively justifying or elaborating on a path through life that you’d like others to think was more deliberate or glorious than it was. Like the swaggering “I Did it My Way.” Or, to raise the brow higher, Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, in which he foresees that his cohorts will as old men “remember with advantages what feats he did that day.”

    And Frost adds a twist. The speaker is not looking backward, he’s thinking forward. He knows in the present that down the road he’ll be sighing and making up the story. He’s aware he’ll be remembering with advantages. As a final irony, he doesn’t indicate what the difference is; not good or bad, just different.

    TMI, perhaps, but I’ve always enjoyed Frost.

    Keep up the good work, literally!

    • Bruce Turkel October 4, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

      This is great stuff, Tim, thanks.

      I actually read quite a bit about Frost being ironic and talking about him actually meaning that following your own path was not the best way to satisfaction.

      Being a marketing guy I thought to take the poem at face value, the way readers/consumers might. This way I would use its more obvious meaning to make my point – but more, I thought it would be an interesting tie-in between the earlier “literally and figuratively” point for anyone (like you) who actually thought about it that deeply.

      Since you obviously listen to music as carefully as you read poetry, I’ll liken it to the contrast between a melody and counter melody in a Bach concerto. You can enjoy the piece without ever hearing those interactions. Ah, but if you do hear them…

  4. Mary Louise Cole October 4, 2017 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    I am literally amazed and amused by your writing. I have known you as a creative artist skilled in marketing. Congratulations on your book. I plan to read it but I haven’t decided if this is figuratively or literally.


    Mary Lou Cole

  5. David J. Hawes October 5, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply


    Thanks for continuing to do all three.

  6. Julia October 12, 2017 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Bruce, loved your post, I am doing a PhD and your words totally resonate with my daily “picking a road” adventures.
    And totally agree… numbers lie.

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