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Any metric you can buy your way out of…

Is probably not a useful metric to measure yourself by.

If it’s important and you can spend money to fix it, by all means, go do that.

But the helpful metrics are the ones where cash isn’t the solution.

Leave stones unturned

If it’s the wrong stone, walk away.

Infinity is a trap.

The frenzied search for more is a distraction and a place to hide, all in one.

Pick the right stones and cherish them as you turn them over.

That’s enough.

Smashing the piggybank

You can only break it open once.

Organizations (and political candidates) that forget this and treat their biggest supporters like bottomless ATMs learn the piggybank rule at great cost.

Every interaction you have with a customer either strengthens your relationship (because it’s mutually beneficial) or weakens it. Weaken it enough time and you break it.

The fact that you ended up with a few bucks in the meantime is immaterial compared to the long term damage of breaking the relationship because you’re in a hurry.

The solo marathon

The usual marathons, the popular ones, are done in a group.

They have a start time.

A finish line.

A way to qualify.

A route.

A crowd.

And a date announced a year in advance.

Mostly, they have excitement, energy and peer pressure.

The other kind of marathon is one that anyone can run, any day of the year. Put on your sneakers, run out the door and come back 26 miles later. These are rare.

It’s worth noting that much of what we do in creating a project, launching a business or developing a career is a lot closer to the second kind of marathon.

No wonder it’s so difficult.

Constraints and measurement

These are the two axes of professional design and engineering.

Did you produce within the constraints?

Did you deliver measurable results?

That’s it.

Good design doesn’t exceed the available resources and produces measurable change against the agreed upon objectives.

Great design is better than good design because it uses fewer resources and/or creates even better results.

If you need to build a bridge, yes, of course you could build one out of unobtainium and even an amateur could build one that can’t carry truck traffic, but a professional engineer eagerly accepts the constraints she signed up for and insists on measuring just how much wear and tear the bridge can actually handle.

Direct marketing, curriculum design, product testing, movie-making–they all live within the axes of constraints and performance.

They just opened the long-awaited Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, previously one of the worst major airports in the world. And while it’s shiny, the failures of engineering and design are everywhere. At 6 am, the line for the ladies room is 20 people long. The space constraints can’t be eased (constraints enable architecture) but the throughput would have been easy to measure at the blueprint stage. This part of the billion-dollar facility had just one job, and it failed.

The same is true for the design of the simple coffee stand. It doesn’t require a breakthrough in retail engineering to create an espresso bar that can serve grumpy pre-caffeinated travelers with speed and grace. But despite the hard work of the tradespeople who followed the plans, the plans themselves were defective. The outcome of their poor design decisions is obvious to anyone looking at the line of 30 people.

Forward motion happens when we see the best practices of our craft and exceed them. The privilege of design and engineering comes with the responsibility to be measured, and to redo our work when it doesn’t measure up.

“Give me constraints” and “Measure my performance” are rarely heard, except when talented and passionate designers go to work.

The tyranny of small debts, compounded

The simple but hard to follow rule is this: Only borrow money to buy things that go up in value.

In the old days, that meant a house and a college education, because you’d probably earn enough from either to pay back the debt, with interest. Today, housing is unpredictable and many forms of student debt are crushing (and the yield on the most expensive forms of education isn’t as high as it might be).

You can justify borrowing money to buy a car if the car enables you to make enough money to pay the debt back… But medallion cab owners in New York have recently learned that there are few sure things.

The deal with credit card debt, though is simply terrible. The credit card companies pay 2% on their interest-bearing accounts, but charge around NINE times that on the debt that some people carry–that’s a huge gap. It’s a lousy deal you should avoid if you possibly can, regardless of how unfair the economy is.

Lately, there’s been a lot of handwringing about the long-term impact of a daily treat like a cup of coffee. The Times got this completely wrong yesterday, pushing people deeper into a trap that they should run away from. And the Washington Post points out that the number of people getting a loan for their wedding is skyrocketing. This is a problem. Here’s a simple way to see why:

You can make a copy of the spreadsheet I built (hit MAKE A COPY or download) and then play with the numbers yourself.

The sad news is that the best you can do within an industrial system that makes it harder and harder to catch up through effort is to begin by avoiding debt. It turns out that paying interest on interest is a long-term trap.

The real win is to borrow money to embrace high-yield education, and then borrow money if you need it to build an asset, a business that creates value for you and the people you serve.

The system is not fair, and it’s rigged against those that get compounded.

Don’t get compounded if you can avoid it.


That’s exciting to hear.

Until you realize that if you switch just one letter around, it spells

eyes eyes eyes…

As soon as you’re applauded, you have eyes on you.

Eyes that belong to humans, to critics, to people hoping for the best. Mostly, to people who expect you to keep your promises.

That’s part of the deal of ‘yes.’

Fear of kohlrabi

What do you do when you face an alien looking vegetable? It’s all over the farmer’s market, it’s cheap and plentiful and you’ve never had it before.

Most people walk right on by. What’s the cost of being wrong, though?

The economic cost is tiny. Make a mistake with a kohlrabi and you’re out about a dollar–less than it cost you to drive to work.

But the emotional cost, depending on how you’ve trained yourself, could be high indeed.

What will my family think of me if they don’t like it?

How will I deal with my ignorance of what to do with it? Is it too painful/risky/time-consuming to learn?

What if I do it wrong? Will it make me feel stupid?

What will eating an unfamiliar food remind me of?

The kohlrabi metaphor runs deep. It’s about our perception of new experiences, and how we deal with, “this might not work.”

Most of all, kohlrabi is a choice.

Eleven votes

Every year, the Baseball Writers of America vote for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Eleven of them voted NO when Babe Ruth came up for the first time.

If Babe Ruth gets eleven ‘no’ votes, why are we so worried about the noisy critic in the corner?

“That’s just semantics”


The meaning of the word is the reason we used the word.

If we don’t agree about the meaning of the word, we haven’t communicated.

Instead of, “that’s just semantics,” it seems more productive to say, “I’m confident we have a semantics problem.”

Because that’s all of it.

The way we process words changes the way we act. The story we tell ourselves has an emotional foundation, but those emotions are triggered by the words we use.

Not just.



[PS today’s the final due date for applications for the August altMBA. Hope to see you there.]