I love statistics.

No, I’m not a big math geek. And by “love” I actually mean “hate”. As much fun as statistics can be to play with and as useful as they can be when viewed objectively, they’re incredibly easy to manipulate so they say something different once you’ve twisted them.

Or as Mark Twain once put it: “There are three kinds of lies. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics“.

The CEO of BestBuy has been quoted, or perhaps misquoted, as saying that the iPad has cannibalized 50% of laptop sales. And nobody is better qualified to make a judgment like that than the man who runs the USA’s largest electronics chain, right?

Maybe not.

Until September 26, when it becomes available in all BestBuy stores, Best Buy has been selling iPads online for in-store pickup and in only some of its stores. And their supplies have been limited so far; Apple literally hasn’t been able to keep up with demand for the iPad.

So it’s possible that the iPad will eventually eat even more than 50% of laptop sales. Or, maybe the statistics were arrived at in a faulty way; what if the supposition was that year-over-year laptop sales declines at BestBuy were directly attributable to per-unit iPad purchases, but the supposition was wrong? What if BestBuy’s laptops sales have just fallen into the toilet?

Statistics don’t ultimately mean anything.

Listen: I’m on the record as saying some pretty nasty things about BestBuy, and also that I think the iPad is a bad idea, if only because of the ugly business model it creates. I understand that this could color your view of my words here. But this post isn’t about Apple, the iPad, or BestBuy. It’s about statistics.

Statistics are a great guidepost, or again, they can be if left untwisted. The question is: do you know how to twist statistics to meet the needs of your business change plans without then blinding yourself with your own rhetoric?

Best Buy’s CEO may have missed the boat on this one. But since CEOs making public statements are almost always looking to alter your thinking rather than to “share” their own, there’s a great lesson to be learned.

Oh: and as cool as it is, I still think the iPad is evil.

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