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The Scoreboard is Scoreless.

9 Feb

Business is a lot like football.  In both, we need to acknowledge two things when looking at the scoreboard:

1)     The final score is often a product of the environment in which we compete.   

A football team’s success is determined by much more than just team performance.  The strength of the competition, injuries to key players, even the referees have an impact on the season record.  Similarly, outside factors often determine our success in business.  A good market environment sometimes ensures success, even when we just show up.  A bad market environment?  It can crush even the most sound strategy.

2)     Results, therefore, don’t tell the whole story. 

Three point victories over an arch-rival and a cupcake, while the same on the scoreboard, usually mean very different levels of performance on the football field.  So too does 3% growth during a bullish market versus 3% growth in a bear market.

If the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the entire story, should we just ignore it?  No, but we must evaluate ourselves differently.  We need to track our processes, not just end the results.

In my career, a few processes I track include 1) returned correspondence from customers 2) conversion of focus group attendees 3) number of sales calls per day.

These processes are smaller metrics.  They no doubt affect the scoreboard, but aren’t swayed or skewed by the landscape in which I compete.

The point of focusing on process is not to ignore end results.  The scoreboard does matter–we should never afford ourselves excuses when the other team wins.

The point is that when you focus on process, you take the business context or environment in which you work out of your measurements.  The ups and downs that can be attributed to competition and the situations we inherit begin to smooth out.  When we have excel at the right processes, results ultimately begin to care of themselves.

Which football coach talks most about process?  Nick Saban, when he’s not busy winning back-to-back national championships.

nick saban

I Never Won The Fifth Grade Science Fair

24 Jan

But I run experiments now.

When I think about my first year in marketing, I remember the headaches.  The pressure that built in my temples as I obsessed over tough decisions.  Which product feature should I tell our sales reps to highlight with customers?  Is this a headline that will get customers to look at my marketing materials?

I was a perfectionist trying to make just the right decision.  But without enough information to do so. 

I was new.  I didn’t know my customers well enough—didn’t have the knowledge I needed to guarantee a confident, correct decision. 

I’d obsess, hesitantly make a choice, doubt it afterwards, and then wait for the results.  Flipping a coin might have led to more success, and definitely would have saved me stress. 

Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup changed my perspective on decision making.  It’s one of the holy bibles of startup culture, but it’s applicable to everything we do.  There are lots of lessons in the book, but the most important one (for me) is this one:

  • Do not stress over decisions in which you have incomplete information.  Your goal is not to make the right decision (or build the right product) under possibly false assumptions.  Your goal is to learn before you act by testing your assumptions.  Worry about learning and the right decision will follow.

One way to learn is through devising an experiment.  Which isn’t that hard to do—I sure as hell never won the fifth grade science fair.  An example from my work:

Instead of obsessing over which chapters and pages in my textbooks our sales reps should show to customers, I’ve created an experiment where I intersperse “highlights” picked by our authors with random passages from the book.  I ask a group of customers to rank these passages and explain their evaluations.  If the rankings are consistent (if customers pick the same highlights and have similar reasons for doing so), I can confidently present tested passages to our sales reps.

Fewer headaches.  Better, more confident decisions.  The Lean Startup is worth the read.

The Lean Startup

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