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Lies and Statistics and a Brighter Future


Mark Twain famously said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Coming off another virulent election season during which both sides cherry-picked statistics to suit their own arguments, I find myself even more cynical about how numbers are presented to bolster an argument.

I don't think I'm alone.

We use numbers as statistics constantly to win arguments and influence people to make decisions. Those range from electing the right person or supporting the right party to choosing the right product. But, when we are selling products or services to either consumers or businesses, we are being met with an arms-crossed attitude of disbelief. The abuse of statistics has led to a heightened sense of disbelief. Buyers' cynicism stands in contrast to those who are trying to advance a cause, sell a product or extol a virtue. The cynicism stands in the way of success.

Two weeks ago, I attended Greenbuild, the trade show for the green construction industry put on by the U.S. Green Building Council. I have been attending construction trade shows for more than 20 years and this one was perhaps the most positive I have ever attended. Cynicism was in short supply.

While some hard-bitten observers may attribute that to a kind of gullibility on the part of both attendees and exhibitors, I think it has more to do with the very positive and forward-looking attributes of the participants. The people who were at Greenbuild see a better future for the construction industry and they are interested in making that happen.

In a very real sense, I was buoyed by this. After several years of difficult times, it was fun to be in the middle of people who saw something brighter coming down the road.

Now, I don't think people were donning rose-colored glasses and just hoping without reason for better, but I do think that the participants believed that creating a better performing built-environment was a valued goal and worthy of accomplishment. To achieve that, they were willing to suspend some levels of cynicism.

I want to compare that to many of the trade shows and industry gatherings I have participated in during the last several years. Too often I have been dragged into depressing conversations about the future of the industry-both commercial and residential-and have returned from such meetings with a sense of doom layered over top of me. That's not a great feeling.

I have also sat through meetings where attendees voiced the greatest levels of cynicism and negativity. It was delightful to be in the midst of such optimism.

Perhaps the strangest element of this is my own attitude toward "green." You see, I think it's an unnecessarily fuzzy word that doesn't serve us well. In fact, I think its fuzziness lends it to be abused so that people can claim "greenness" for a product or service without it really being green. I much prefer "performance." Give me a building that performs better, and I'll show you one that is also "green."

So, in spite of my own cynicism, I saw at Greenbuild a group of people who were devoted to improving the performance of our built environment. And that was a very positive feeling.


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