If there is a number associated with something, our natural instinct will be to optimize it. All good mobile games understand this. Cut The Rope, Temple Run, Angry Birds, etc., are all about optimizing numbers – levels and overall scores.
The issue, of course, is that while we are spending hours optimizing our numbers on Angry Birds and Temple Run, there are a whole lot of other, more important things, that we are saying no to – important relationships, our health, our mental growth and development, etc. But, it is hard to recognize that until something breaks. Without numbers to mark progress, it takes a lot of focus and discipline to keep working away on the intangible.
My proposed solution is to over index on focusing on the intangible. Any time you see something hard to measure, spend extra time thinking about whether you should spend time investing on it. Yes, there will be some things that you should ignore. But, for the most part, you will find that the intangible stuff is what contributes to a lot of success and happiness in the long run. In school, that means going beyond grades to focus on learning the “soft skills.” In our companies, that means investing in building a great culture. In our careers, that means focusing on long term skill development over a short term pay raise. In our relationships, that means putting in effort to be thoughtful and caring. And, in our lives, it means spending time on activities that help us learn, grow and become better people.
Ben Horowitz once said – Management by numbers is like painting by numbers – it is strictly for amateurs. It isn’t all that different in our life.
Pay attention to the numbers, sure. But, remember to over index on focusing on the intangible stuff. That is difficult. The difficulty lies in the fact that intangibles don’t seem to pay off for the longest time.
Until they do.