“The End Justifies the Means”

Translation: “My questionable behavior should be excused, because I got the result I wanted.”

The thing is, the end and the means aren’t two separate entities. They’re connected, because everything we do has consequences.

I think the saying should be: “The means is always part of the end.”

Putting Yourself on the Hook

I once read an entertaining account of some students who quit college to start a company. For the next few years the startup was constantly on the brink of folding, but each time they decided to stick it out. My favorite part of the story is when the business starting getting media coverage and the founders knew they couldn’t quit. Everyone was paying attention now. Failing would be too humiliating.

Performing in public can push people to succeed. Sometimes it makes sense to do make yourself accountable to others by choice, whether it’s a big promise or an aggressive deadline.

Because once people are depending on you to meet expectations you helped create, you’ll find energy reserves you never knew you had. A scary and painful tactic, but also effective and worthwhile — especially when you care enough about the outcome.

The Dividing Line

The other day, I was thinking how different sports commentary has changed over the years. In the past, most of that perspective was mostly filled by retired players and coaches — those who experienced the sport first-hand. These days, we see more ideas and observations supported by analyzing data, often by people who never competed at the professional level.

The public sees them as two opposing sides: old school vs. new school. Players vs. the number crunchers. You’re either on one team or the other.

This of course, ridiculous. The dividing line is an artificial construct, because it creates tension and spectatorship. People will tune in to a good fight. But is that what the two sides really want?

Good sports commentary comes from understanding the game better and there’s always more to learn. I think the opposing sides are really on the same side.

RIP Stan Lee

As a kid, I was a big comics fan, and specifically Marvel. I grew up with The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America, among others.

Spider-Man was my favorite, though. He had powers, but wasn’t the most powerful. He was strong and fast, and for a good reason: He had the proportionate strength and speed of a spider. Sticking to walls, shooting webs from his wrists, and even his danger-sense all fell under a unifying theme. It was all so cool.

But what made the stories so compelling was how he dealt with fear. Whether he was Spider-Man or Peter Parker, the character always had a Charlie Brown hard-luck vibe to him. Being misunderstood despite good intentions, never quite getting the girl, constantly short on money to pay the bills, he would never seem to catch a break. But through it all, he always tried. Even when the odds were long, Spider-Man remained true to his principles and gave his best effort.

Stan Lee was largely responsible for the Marvel Universe that was part of my childhood. Perhaps he received more credit than he deserved, but then again, perhaps not. I remember wanting to do my biography report on him in high school, but the teacher nixed that idea because he didn’t feel there wasn’t enough source material. I never got to write my tribute to Stan Lee until now.

Thanks, Stan, for adding a little magic and wonder into my life.

Learning Evolution

When I think about education during my formative years, my lasting impression was being fed information. In class, that meant the teacher and textbook were the main resources, with occasional trips to the library whenever I had a research assignment. For any given subject, I wasn’t getting to choose what or how I was being taught. I never thought about how limiting my learning experience was until much later, as an adult.

Fast forward to today, where billions of people connect to the internet. I can now learn from a beginner or expert. I can learn through videos, blog posts, and Q&A forums. The variety of perspectives and modalities means I’m less likely to get stuck and more likely to have a deeper understanding of whatever I’m trying to learn, all mostly for free. That’s magical.

Like many people, I sometimes take it all for granted. I’ll watch the latest meme, or dabble on social media, and wonder where the time went. But most days, I remember the internet is the greatest learning tool ever invented and I shouldn’t waste the opportunity to grow. I am so thankful.

Getting Comfortable with Data Analysis

There was a time, not too long ago, when I heard predictions that learning to code would become part of a basic education, just like reading and writing. We haven’t reached that point yet; though it’s certainly true that more kids these days grow up with some programming exposure.

I’m wondering if we’re going to see a similar trajectory with analyzing data.

Apparently 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. We’re gleaning more insight from numbers, leading to more innovation and improved decision-making. Consequently, more people will be needed to perform data analysis, and more people will need to understand it.

Being able to interpret a chart or graph, recognizing the trap of a small sample size, and knowing the difference between correlation and causation used to be an ability of the specialist. Now they’re necessary skills to deal with changes that are already here.

The Unexpected Thank-You

After an overnight field trip for our school, a fellow parent chaperone told me how great it was to see me work with the kids. She seemed both sincere and grateful.

I was in a great mood the rest of the day, and I’m sure everyone noticed.

The unexpected act of thanking someone is magical, an ignition of a positive vibe that spreads. Why is unprompted appreciation such a rarity?

After all, there’s almost never any downside. And givers can feel just as good as the receivers.

Public Assertions

It’s not easy to share your perspective in front of everyone.

It’s also not easy to change your position in front of everyone, even if you have good reasons.

We need more people willing to put thoughtful analysis into the public domain. And we need less people criticizing those  courageous enough to do it.

There, but Not Really

If one person is talking to another, it’s respectful to make eye contact and listen.

So why is it acceptable to be disengaged during classes, meetings, or presentations? What’s the point of attending if most of the time is spent staring at a phone or zoning out?

We all get invitations that we want to refuse but don’t. We sign up but can’t figure out a way to back out when we have a change of heart. So to honor our commitment, we go. The thing is, our presence alone doesn’t make us courteous. Our mind needs to be there with our body.

Showing up to be polite but not paying attention is not polite.

The Danger of Making Metrics Your Goals

Salespeople rewarded for hitting their revenue targets could be tempted to closing questionable deals when faced with the prospect of missing quota.

Dieters obsessed with the number on their scale may make sub-optimal health choices in order to lose weight.

I used to always measure how fast I was running or how much I could lift. Sure, that helped me push my fitness limits. But then I was always disappointed when the numbers weren’t improving.

Metrics definitely can make our lives better. We just need to be careful that they actually do.

(related: Professor Marilyn Strathern describes Goodhart’s law as: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”