We live in a quantified world. A world where everything from the number of minutes you slipped into a deep sleep to the number of times you lifted the phone to the duration of your ride home is measured and predicted. Everything is out there. The steps you take, the places you have been to, the people you have been with, how many times your newborn baby has blinked in one hour. You can turn around and comfortably ask anyone “what’s your score?” Most likely there will be an answer. Everything is data!
Armed with smartphones, trackers, keyfobs and watches, we strap our journey to to ‘data’ land and measure everything that we do! Not without reason entirely. Some of it is of great use when deployed with purpose. Much else is a pointless, listless distraction.
There I said it. Here are three thought avenues for your consideration.
1. The certainty avenue.
Data makes the intangible, tangible. We now want to be sure of how many minutes it’s going to take for the taxi to arrive and if the baby’s diaper needs a change. So much so, in the absence of data, we feel lost.
As devices and data take over our lives, our comfort with ambiguity has beaten a hasty retreat. We want to measure everything because the mere measure lends a sense of certainty. A degree of comfort. Last week, a friend spoke to me about a psychometric tool that finds out an eight-year-old’s personality (and hence establish career choices for the kid). I am told it is quite a hit.
It’s baffled me no end. When jobs of the future are getting a fundamental redesign, the point to determine what the future career of an eight-year-old will be is silly! I am reminded of my father who would shrug his shoulders and say, “go figure” when I used to ask him what I should choose for a career.
2. Goals vs Measures.
A couple of years ago, a lovely morning held an insight. I and a bunch of friends had gathered to run. A runner friend refused to run after she hit the road only to realise that her Garmin watch was not charged and hence wouldn’t be able to record her run.
We had a good conversation about that later. She recalled that she started out running only to get fitter and happier! Running a distance at a certain pace was just a measure. But somewhere along the line, the measure meant everything to her. A measure had just become her goal.
Is the acquisition of a certain quantum of wealth a measure of success or is it a goal?
Is the number of country’s travelled a measure of perspective or is that just a number that can be spoken at a party?
Am sure you get the drift. There is a difference between a goal and a measure of a goal. If we don’t watch it, measures can well morph to become goals. When that happens, our goals lose their meaning and purpose. A mere pursuit of a clutch of activities!
3. So, what’s your score?
Sunil Gavaskar the cricketer from yesteryear has a reputation of not looking at the scoreboard while at the crease. His refrain: watching the scoreboard tick robbed his ability to focus on each ball bowled at him.
The point I am labouring on is to ensure that we don’t let data slip into dictating our lives. Some of us are obsessed with keeping score. First, we keep score. Then the score keeps us!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love measures. They provide a certain direction. Without discretion, data has raw power to dictate emptiness into lives. It brings victories that are pyrrhic at best. Data is a good point to begin to pause and ponder. But it’s often not a good idea to treat it as a finish line.
Some day, we should sit down and talk about this. I learnt a long time ago that ‘What’s your score?’ is a question that didn’t matter as long as the distinction between goals and measures were clear.
Questions for reflection.
Here are a bunch of questions that can help you to refresh the goals, measures and the scores that you are keeping.
Take an inventory of all those things that you measure. And then ponder over why you are measuring them? Ask yourself the question: If this is a good measure, what is my goal?’.
And then another clutch of questions.
1. What else must I do to achieve this goal?
2. How else would I know I have achieved this goal?
3. Why is this goal important to me?
There is just one more thing that has always helped me get a perspective. Talk to someone. A buddy. Maybe a business partner. Perhaps the spouse. And be sure to make the distinction between your goal and the measure.
Speaking of data, last week, I got a congratulatory message from a friend, for The OWL Despatch‘s 50th edition. I didn’t notice till then. Well, I haven’t been keeping score for I have been having fun!
So, here are five pieces for Edition 50.
1. I start with something deeply inspiring in a time of gloom from Kerala. A 104-year-old grandmother for 16 grandkids wrote and passed a school level exam. She scored 100% in maths. Well, age is a number.
2. A good friend shared this with me and I gorged it up. Nodding my head several times about being a noob. That reminds me, please do share any pieces that you think fit The OWL Despatch. Will share it along with due credits to you.
3. “Reconciling immediate preferences with long-range aspirations is a familiar problem. But it can be approached from a fresh perspective.” Where the freshly minted Nobel laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo and their pointers on unfinished houses got me thinking.
4. I have learnt a bunch of things through Google. But this is something that I am learning from Google. “How Google Got Its Employees to Eat Their Vegetables” ‘The tech giant is engineering a way to encourage its employees to eat healthier …’ Well!
5. And by the way, did you know that the Apple Watch outsold all the watches in the Swiss watch industry together. That is including Rolex, Tag Heuer, Tissot, Louis Vuitton and others.
But then, sales data is just one piece of data. Just ask a gentleman who owns a Rolex. Or a Tag. And you will hear a different score.
That’s that for this edition. Its been a long day. But I am happy to be doing this. It keeps me alive and going. Speaking of staying alive and fresh, have you heard of the Japanese fishing boats and sharks? It may not be completely true. But well, it’s quite some story.
Until next time, stay good and spread the word.
Curated reads for the 50th Edition of OWL Despatch
- A 104 year old lady passes a school exam.
- Being a noob
- Reconciling immediate preferences with long range aspirations
- How Google got its employees to eat their vegetables
- Apple watch outsold all other Swiss watches put together
Image credits Pixabay