Friday Finds (My Annual Review, Taste, Amazon, Oil, Leadership, Goodhart's Law)


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Hi friends,

I'm finally ready to share my Annual Review with you!

These reviews are an emotional odyssey every year because they simultaneously allow me to celebrate my wins and force me to confront my shortcomings. Most of my writing is intellectual; this piece is intensely personal.

One surprising lesson from building Write of Passage is how much business comes down to people. Turns out, there’s less alpha than expected in “being good at business” and more alpha than expected in understanding human behavior and navigating difficult conversations.

Today's Finds

Battling Goodhart's Law: Goodhart's Law says: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” It's revealing, but incomplete. Metrics can be a gift or a curse. You need metrics to scale a company because it's so hard to get an objective sense of how things are going without them. But metrics can lead people astray when they cause people to pursue the wrong goals. One of your core jobs as a leader is aligning the incentives of the company with each employee. Something I didn't appreciate before this article is how much you can iterate upon metrics over time. Part of running an effective organization is developing a process for doing so.

Amazon and their Metrics: Amazon has a weekly leadership meeting where they analyze 400-500 metrics in a single session. The process is overwhelming at first, but people develop a finger-tip feeling (the German word is Fingerspitzengefühl) for how they should operate. Amazon divides their metrics into "controllable input metrics" and "uncontrollable output metrics." Output metrics are a distraction because they're lagging indicators that can'd be directly influenced. It's better to focus on what you have direct control over: inputs. At Write of Passage, we carefully track the number of students who are interested in taking the course — an output metric. If we focus too heavily on it, we'll be incentivized to game it. So instead, we focus on input metrics like how much I write and how many articles I publish. For a deeper dive, I recommend the Amazon section of this piece and Chapter 6 of Working Backwards, which is written by two long-time Amazon employees. I also pulled an anecdote out for you here.

Rick Rubin, on Musical Taste: One of the most successful music producers of the 21st century has no technical ability, little formal knowledge of music, and doesn't know how to work a soundboard. How can that be?

The 11 Laws of Showrunning: Written for Hollywood types by the Emmy-Award winning producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, but applies to running any creative project. The key point is that you have to tell people what you want. Saying "I'll know it when I see it" isn't fair to the people you're supposed to be leading. Creative work requires a clear, strong vision. Without one, you'll waste time, squander money, and piss people off. Effective leaders, like effective showrunners, don't curate other people's ideas. They outline the vision, define the parameters, and give people freedom to execute within it. The original 1915 design brief for the Coca-Cola bottle design is a good example: "A bottle so distinct that it could be recognized by touch in the dark or when lying broken on the ground."

Saudi Aramco: An introduction to one of the world’s wealthiest oil companies, which earned $366 billion in revenue in 2018, with a net income of roughly $110 billion. Most people don’t know this, but it was a wholly US-owned company until 1974 when Saudi Arabia got a 25% stake in the company (today, The Kingdom owns the entire company). This line says it all: “Saudi Aramco is—more even than Apple or Alphabet or Facebook Inc. or all the traditional champions—the greatest machine for the generation of money that the world has ever seen.”

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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