Monday, October 28, 2013

The Number One

We do a lot of measuring in workers' compensation.

In claims we measure costs and time, and we break these measurements down into industry nomenclature that is puzzling to most such as "frequency" and "severity."

We measure "loss costs" and we can determine "combined ratios." Numbers are good because they make it easy to quantify our actions, or inactions. Anytime something happens in workers' compensation our deeply rooted nature is to give it a number.

We have file numbers, claim numbers, policy numbers, statute and regulation numbers.

Numbers help define workers' compensation.

Numbers make it relatively easy to understand how much a given claim is going to cost (that's called "reserving" in the claims department). And it's not that difficult to estimate how many injuries are going to occur over any given period of time for any particular occupation or industry.

People are trained to put together all sorts of numbers to determine how much a law change is going to affect the financials of the industry.

Still other people are trained in "data analytics", which is basically big number crunching to determine what sort of trends these numbers portend.

Knowing this information helps professionals determine if something is amiss because historical trends provide some basis upon which to determine future action.

But a lot of times these measurements get in the way of understanding what is really going on.

When we really get down to it though the only number that matter is the number "one."

Friday I closed out the 11th Annual California Workers' Comp Forum in San Diego with my presentation on National Trends in Workers' Compensation.

I threw around a lot of numbers, and was surprised I didn't see many glazed eyes as these numbers got supplanted with even more numbers in my race to get everything I wanted to say out in an hour.

But I failed to conclude with the most important number - "one."

When I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport last Tuesday evening from South Carolina, I walked behind a man and a woman making their way methodically down to baggage claim. Since I was behind them, there didn't appear to be anything extraordinary about them though I did notice that the woman seemed to be guiding the man.

I took this initially as just a couple paying special attention to each other.

Then we got to an escalator and the woman was instructing the man when to step onto the moving steps and that's when I realized that the man was blind.

He didn't have the white cane with a red tip, and he wasn't wearing black glasses - there were no clues other than the fact that the woman was helping him navigate.

And frankly I didn't think much of it at the time. They went their way and I went my way, until we ran into each other at the men's room in the baggage claim area.

Obviously the woman was not going to go into the men's room and she let the man go there on his own.

Except he didn't know where he was going - it was very, very obvious that he needed some assistance.

So I grasped his left elbow, told him I would guide him to the urinal and helped him feel where the porcelain and flush unit were. And as I was next to him also performing the necessary biological function - we shared some small chatter. I told him I would wait to help him find the sink to wash up, and then help him back out.

He was a number "one."

As you can imagine, there were a lot of people in the airport at the time, and it seemed that no one paid any attention to the blind man and his friend except to visually express some irritation that they weren't moving along as quickly as the rest.

I sort of see these other people as all of the numbers that get measured - all sorts of demographics and other information can be derived from these numbers.

But "one" - that's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

It's a challenge remembering that "one." We don't have much time because all of the other numbers take up a lot of space in our brains, our calendars, our emotions and intellect.

When we work a file, there is a "one" at the center of that file. Sometimes we ascribe a greater value to that "one" and sometimes less.

Sometimes a lot of "ones" are grouped together, and that's when we get statistics.

When we look at our industry and see the numbers, remember that all of those numbers started with "one."

1 comment:

  1. David I have many people in my life who are "number 1", I step alongside of them I step in front of them and from time to time I step behind them when they need a gentle nudge.
    Open any file in my office and you will not see any file number, you will see names, because names remain connected to the people while numbers remove humanity.

    I am often asked for claim numbers of various injured workers when I speak with the various providers, my response is always the same, I don't have the number I only have the name.

    The sooner all of the workers compensation systems return to remember each number has a person who relies on the workers compensation system the better all of us will be.