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Mark Twain, Limbo and why Stories trump suspicious statistics.

Although, many moons ago, I completed an A level on the subject I’ve always been slightly suspicious of the statistic.

In today’s modern world many of the statistics we are exposed to are usually from a press release from an interested party aiming to prove it’s particular perspective is the right one.

I’m with Mark Twain on this one:-

Facts are Stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

However whilst we can (and should) be critical about certain statistics many can provide an insight into our lives.

The insight I’m interested in is how we spend our time. Strangely this hasn’t been specifically examined by the Office of National Statistics since 2005. However their insight was particular interesting…

The average Briton in 2005 spends 18.3 hours a week watching TV, or DVD’s or listening to music.

and now for a more recent statistic, straight from the horses mouth (this particular horse being Facebook), which would have been academic in 2005 but shows how the nature of how we spending our time is changing…

The average Facebook user spends over 1 hour 59 minutes per week (17 minutes per day) on Facebook.

On the ONS 2005 stats the average typical time an individual used a computer for non work related activities was 11 minutes per day. The fact that the average Facebook user now spends more than that on one site shows the impact the web, social media and reliable fast internet connection (without the screechy modem noises) have had on our changing lives (and the change in how we spend our time) over the last 10 years.

However in our profession this should raise a question…

How much time do you think we spend, on average per person as a nation, focusing on our personal finances?

I tried to find some half reliable statistics on the subject. I couldn’t.

However I’d suggest that if we calculated it in minutes per week on average the number would be as low as a limbo bar at a yoga convention. As small as the UKIP delegation at an “I Love Europe” party. As miniscule as, erm, Mr Michael Miniscule from Minisculand riding a mini.

So….here’s the challenge:-

How can we could ‘bottle’ what compels us to engage with social media and watch TV as regularly as we do and use it to engage more of us in our financial lives?

The answer might be complex but a step forward would be to explore a significant reason why many of us engage with social media and watch significant amounts of TV (and music and film) in the first place…


TV (and music and film) is full of stories.

Interesting, Compelling, Engaging Stories.

Whether it’s Dr Who, The Godfather or The songs of the White Stripes, We engage with all types of media because of the stories they tell us. That we identify with. That we’re compelled to share.

I see Social media as an extension of the human need to tell, listen to and engage with stories, although now it’s an interactive process.

You can follow real lives (or as much as that individual wants you to see), comment, like and share.

You can share stories which reflect you.

Therefore one of the most compelling parts of social media is you’re involvement in the ‘story’ of our own and increasingly other peoples lives.

However when it comes to the work we do as a profession to educate, inform and guide we don’t seem to use stories as much as we should.

Most financial guidance, be it through the Money Advice Service, Charity or Private sector seems to be focused on sharing ‘top tips’, ‘interesting facts’ and ‘great ideas’.

All of these communication methods might increase our financial knowledge but isn’t as likely to build an emotional connection like a story. This emotional connection builds the relationship. Relationship builds trust. Trust builds influence…

Therefore Stories build influence.

I reckon it’s one of the reasons why financial journalists (including the two Lewis’s – Martin and Paul), who are trained to tell stories, have as much influence when compared to the impact of private, government or third party organisations whose remit includes financial education.

So I reckon stories are more powerful than the statistic. However that might just be me…

You see…I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the statistic.

What do you think?

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