Refining your gut reaction with data

I had a gut reaction about an event recently which led me to assume that the event hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. So, I said that aloud before looking at the feedback.

It turned out the feedback was great.

So, I spent some more time thinking about the difference between my instinctual judgment and reality and soon developed a couple of hypotheses for why I’d been wrong.

Such moments are important learning moments. And, while it is important to make the time to reflect on these, I’ve come to realize that the most important thing to do is to explicitly make a guess – either do it aloud to ourselves or to someone else.

When we skip that step, we have a way of changing the narrative/lying to ourselves – “Yeah, that’s the conclusion I was heading toward as well.” But, saying it aloud makes it hard to do that.

And, that in turn gives us the opportunity to use the data as feedback to keep refining our gut reactions.

Dimensions to optimize

There are dimensions we can choose to optimize a consulting firm or specialized help – Speed, Quality, and Cost.

And, as a general rule, we can only pick two. If you want something cheap and fast, expect it to be low quality. And, if you want something that is both fast and high quality, expect it to be expensive.

We cannot escape the trade-off.

Magic and math

A simple way to understand how investors think about our business/product – they come for the magic and stay for the math.

The inspiring story is the magic that many of us associate with charismatic leaders. In times when everything is going up and to the right, there’s a lot of appetite for magic.

Eventually, however, no amount of magic can save a business or product from the math. So, our ability to deliver and capture value in a way that results in consistent y/y growth rates is the kind of math that creates its own magic in the long run.

From time to time, it is natural to wonder how much more successful our businesses/products might be with more magic and showmanship.

But, that’s short term thinking. The magic is the personality and the math is the character. And, while personality opens doors, character keeps those doors open.

So, if we had to invest in just one thing, let that one thing be making the math work.

This applies just as well to those who invest in our careers/lives.

PS: Unlike investors, our users/customers are just as likely to stay for the magic as they are for the math.

Yoghurt and shortcuts

Yoghurt is an important and loved staple in our household. As it doesn’t make sense to keep buying store bought yoghurt at our scale of consumption (only half kidding), we set yoghurt at home.

There’s a simple 3 step process that we’ve used to do this in the past few years –

1. Heat milk till it gets close to boiling over

2. Let it cool for 45 minutes and add a couple spoons of existing yoghurt (this can be store bought)

3. Leave it be for 8-12 hours (depending on the weather)

Over these years, I’ve attempted shortcuts at each of these stages – E.g. not heating the milk enough, forgetting the 45 minute timer or, as of yesterday, not waiting for the 45 mins, etc. And, in every case, the results have been sub par.

Shortcut yoghurt is crappy yoghurt.

Similarly, there’s a certain process that leads to producing good work. Begin with the end in mind, get started early, get feedback, and keep iterating. Any attempted shortcuts taken in this process shows up in the results.

Just like in the yoghurt.

Einsteinian perspective

From time to time, I am reminded of an exchange between Albert Einstein and his Assistant a few days before his passing.

Einstein had just walked into his office for what would turn out to be the last ever time. His Assistant noticed his discomfort and asked – “Is everything okay?”

“Everything is okay. I am not.” – he responded.

I am reminded of this exchange every time I seek more equanimity. Perspective is power.

Discomfort and the obstacle

On most days in my attempts to do a half decent job as a Product Manager, I see two themes show up regularly in my reflections – i) Something new either got messed up or got real close to getting messed up and ii) I did something that upset somebody.

And, a realization that has accompanied these reflections over time is that there is no solve for this. (This was disappointing.. until it was liberating.)

Here’s why  – if we’re both stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone and attempting to drive change, it is impossible to avoid making mistakes. The only questions worth focusing on then are – are we aware of them? And, are we following up with creative, constructive, and corrective responses?

As long as we’re doing that, that uncomfortable feeling in the stomach is the price we pay for our own learning, long term growth, and, hopefully, progress.

Of course, this isn’t limited to product management – it applies just as well to many jobs, to parenting, and to life.

The discomfort is a leading indicator of the obstacle. And, the obstacle is the way.