Availability bias and the remote work advantage

Removal of the easiest to observe input metric – face time – reduces the availability bias in remote work organisations, and helps them focus on the more productive outcome-based metrics.

This switch to emphasis on outcomes can be helpful for individual productivity, but is truly transformative when the whole organisation goes remote-first.

Behavioural biases confuse performance appraisal in office-based organisation culture

The time spent in office looking productive is a key factor in performance appraisals across teams and organisations. Even when time in office is not a formal factor, it unconsciously creeps in and affects rating scores on other factors.

This focus on input factors and ‘visible productivity’ (time spent, sales calls made, lines of code written1, bugs closed) is a result of the availability heuristic and substitution bias in action.

The outcomes of an individual/team’s work are delayed and often diffused – hard to credit exactly. However, the inputs are visible and trivially measurable. In pursuit of productivity metrics, the manager/organisation substitute the hard to measure outcomes with the easily available input factors (time spent in office, calls made, lines of code) etc.
Continue reading Availability bias and the remote work advantage

Money is the final metric

Facebook lies about video viewership metrics

This headline reminds me of the old principle that I emphasise:

Money is the final metric

If our metrics don’t directly correlate to, or convert into money1 in the near term, then they are not the correct metrics.

Too many metrics, in my experience, are designed for being:

  • easy to measure (or easily available),
  • easy to improve, and
  • comfortable to explain

What they are not designed for: being strongly correlated with current or future supply of money.

For growth, revenue (total, unit, net unit) is the best metric.

Views of our videos2 can be good metrics if they convert directly into money:
– product sales show a direct correlation, or
– advertisers accept them as proxy for ad views, or
– investors require them as a valuation input for the next raise

Views of our videos are a bad metric when they aren’t directly impacting revenue. If sales aren’t growing in proportion with the views, then counting views is of no relevance to the health of the business.

The availability bias trip-wire

The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions which are not as readily recalled.

Most online advertising platforms understand this well, and use it to hook their customers (advertisers). If they show us good3, clean and easily accessible metrics of their choice, we will give those metrics more weight than they deserve.

The views count is right there – in the analytics dashboard. While finding the correct metric that actually correlates with sales, and then tracking it, can be hard.

This also ties in the second part of the hook. The view count number is also easily movable. Spend some money on advertisements, the view count will go up. Voila! View counts – a metric that is easy to measure, and easy to improve!

Those money-correlated metrics, they are even harder to improve than they are to discover and track. Oh look, the views went up again!

We all have heard of ‘Our viewer/user/visitor numbers were amazing, but the money ran out before…’

This is why the money ran out. Because we chose the easy metric, over the metric that really matters – money.

Continue reading Money is the final metric

Twitter’s product ideas funnel

Since its founding, Twitter has made a religion of listening to users. After all, they came up with some of the company’s best ideas — including the hashtag, reply and retweet. After the flow of good ideas from users stopped, Twitter was hard-pressed to come up with its own.

Bloomberg: Why Twitter Can’t Pull the Trigger on New Products

The first part of that quote is a fact – users came up with hashtag, reply, and retweet, and Twitter (the company) adopted them.

However…

Continue reading Twitter’s product ideas funnel

Mind the gap

I’ve been helping my neighbour, David, with his visa application1. Spending time with him over a couple of evenings gave me a chance to get to know him better. It’s been quite a learning experience for both of us. Their life2 is quite a contrast to ours, in areas we wouldn’t even think twice about3.

  • We live around our smartphones – are probably too addicted to them.
    He keeps his mobile phone in his car, doesn’t even get it to the house.
  • He provides his landline as the only contact number.
    We didn’t even bother with getting a landline when we moved to this house 4 years ago.
  • He doesn’t know how to use a computer. His wife got a new computer as present last year. They’re still to ‘open it’, because she hasn’t gotten up to it yet.
    We spend many days solely with them ‘computers’.
  • Continue reading Mind the gap

Why tweetstorms, not blog posts

The other day my wife complained, like many of us Twitter users have often done:

Why do people write these long tweetstorms, instead of writing a blogpost?

I blog. And I write tweetstorms. And the answer to that question, for me, is in three factors – reach, effort, and ephemerality. Continue reading Why tweetstorms, not blog posts

‘How’ is the only question that matters

You don’t need risk takers, you need solution seekers

There are two ways people apply their significant intelligence and energy:

1. In figuring out excuses about why it can’t 1 be done

and

2. In figuring out solutions for how to do it

I call them the excuse generation and the solution exploration behaviours.

I explicitly say – two kinds of ways people think. Not, two kinds of people. Because, more often than not, we see both these behaviours in the same people.

Some of the most intelligent, determined, driven people I know are also the ones I often see working smart to come up with unquestionable excuses for why-not-to, instead of solutions for how-to.

A big task for a successful leader 2, then, is to give people a reason to switch from excuse generation to solution exploration. To motivate the best thinkers and doers with incentives 3 – emotional, financial, egotistical, or other – that helps them realign their thought process towards the target the leader wants achieved.

Most specifically (the usual):

Nurture a culture of solution exploration, with

  • big, and highly visible, rewards for success
  • little or no punishment for failure 4

Continue reading ‘How’ is the only question that matters

The reason Scotland lost

Rugby World Cup 2015 - Scotland vs Australia

Yesterday’s World Cup quarterfinal between Scotland and Australia was one of the most exciting matches of Rugby I’ve ever seen.

The Finale

With less than 10 mins to go, Australia were ahead by 5 points and happily wasting time on the ball to kill off the game. The tartan squad, however, never gave up. Miraculously, with just over 5 mins to go, Bennett scored a try for Scotland, and suddenly the tables turned. Australia, one of the favourites for the tournament, were less than 5 mins from being knocked out by a team who’d lost all 5 of their matches in the 6 nations earlier in the year.

With stakes high, and end close, the game got rough and errors flowed from both sides. After a bit of toing and froing, the game ended up with a Scotland lineout with less than 2 mins to go. It was in the Scotland half, but they had advantage of throwing in the ball. All they needed to do was to pass the ball around safely, and then kick it out for a lineout in the Aussie half. But they bungled the lineout. Big time!

Somewhere in the confusing action after that sorry lineout, the referee awarded Australia a penalty for a foul that wasn’t. Australia converted the penalty in the last-minute of the match, knocking Scotland out by 1 point.

The Diagnosis

That crucial, deciding penalty was wrongly awarded. For such a critical decision, in such a confusing space, the referee should’ve1 gone to the TV referee (TMO) for confirmation. Yet, he made a decision in the moment, and ended up kicking Scotland out of the World Cup.

That’s all you’ll hear if you read the British Media, or any Rugby websites and forums:

Scotland cheated out of the World Cup because of a mis-awarded penalty

The referee, Craig Joubert, may be the most hated person in Scotland this week2.

Sadly, this popular outrage just hides the real cause:

Scotland lost because they bungled an easy, advantage play, while leading, with just 2 mins to go 3

Talking Business

Sport and business follow each other closely in many ways, and this event isn’t very different.

Just like in this game, when diagnosing problems in business, the first reasons pointed out are usually excuses, not causes. And just like in this game, these excuses are the most strongly backed reasons by the insiders, the people most closely involved – emotionally, financially, or in another way.

It takes experience, or sometimes an outsider, to look beyond the immediate excuses and issues, to disengage from emotion, and figure out the root causes. Even if we have neither the experience nor a trained outsider, there are frameworks that can help – my favourite being the immensely powerful, yet super simple 5 Whys 4.

These approaches work just as well whether you’re trying to figure out

  • how Scotland managed to grab defeat from jaws of victory, or
  • why flight delays go up in winter (no, it’s not the fog in Delhi or snow at Heathrow), or
  • why product deliveries are always late despite design specs being submitted on time (it’s not always the manufacturer/engineers).

The Culture

Apart from just the obvious problem with identifying and targeting wrong causes, there’s a bigger issue at stake here – company culture.

When actions are taken on just the first or second level excuses/issues, this leads to a culture of covering the obvious bugs. It sends out a message to the employees influencing their behaviour in ways that, over time, escalate into bigger issues – Silo-ing, CYA-first decision making, technical/bureaucratic debt, and faster employee turnover, amongst others.

On the other hand, a deeper root-cause search, though more time & energy consuming, helps develop a sounder culture – both in engineering & bureaucracy, as well in terms of trust and coordination across the organisation.

Unless we’re in the content production business where ignoring root causes in favour of the most popular causes makes more financial sense, it’s critically important to put into practice the habit of looking beyond the first excuses.

 

Continue reading The reason Scotland lost

Fret over what you fret over …

Just because a thing can be noticed, or compared, or fretted over doesn’t mean it’s important, or even relevant.

– Seth Godin

Accompaniment to another of Seth’s quotes:

If you measure it, it will improve

I strongly recommend everyone read the full post.

A big reason behind why I removed most of in-app analytics from my Chrome projects.