On the variance between effort and reward when people are involved

by oneafrikan on November 10, 2014

I set aside 30 mins of writing time on Sunday after doing some Borough hunting in London.

After looking through my list of writing ideas list I’m not really in the mood to write about anything other than how f&%king angry I am at the moment.

If you read this post, you’ll see there a lot of things that many, many people don’t do whilst expecting contrarian results.

At the moment, the one that jumps out at me is this one:
You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.


Because shrugging them off is the easy way out.
Because I’ve had 4 people tell me that something couldn’t be done. They were adamant about it, they had conviction in their beliefs, they had spent a lot of time on the question. And I believed them because I saw their effort. The problem is that effort doesn’t necessarily mean results. It doesn’t mean you’re grinding out the details. All it means is that you’re sweating.

A (side)note on sweat:
Doing something the same way 10,000 times means you’re just repeating yourself.
Doing something once, learning from it, then doing it differently the next time, is progress.

So I said to myself: I can either throw money at the problem (bad idea), or I can dig really, really deep into the detail to understand what the F&%K is going on. The only way to know whether the people above had any cause to shrug the problem off, is to do it for myself and see the results for myself. There are around 25 metrics I need to look at for 110k datapoints, over a 10 month period, with two similar datasets, where at least 7 people have been involved in some capacity before. So this isn’t what I’d call a simple, easy, or shruggable exercise.

And here’s the rub: digging into the detail has taken me almost two weeks of constant analysis. I’ve only just begun.
I reckon there’s at least another 2 weeks ahead, and then after that it’s going to be a weekly exercise.

So now I understand why the otherwise smart and intelligent people who had worked on this before thought it was easier to shrug off.
After all, what do they have to lose when they can just go and ply their trades somewhere else? In the end, the people with a vested interest in the outcome are the only ones who really win / lose.

So what’s the people lesson?
There is a massive amount of psychology involved in people reporting back on progress, and this is further muddied by having unclear targets or metrics.

Let’s take some examples:
The smart analytical person does some initial (real) analysis, finds little to talk about, reports back that there is a HUGE problem that can’t be solved.

The overconfident person has read enough to seem trustworthy when discussing the problem, and been around long enough to talk a good game. They know enough in conversation about the tactical bits to be able to execute some changes required. But as above, they lack the ability to do the analysis, and their ego won’t let them ask for help, look for help, or find the help. So they try pushing and pulling on the web tools they are used to, whilst trying to throw money at the problem.

The hard worker who has an ego which is tied innately to their work does a little bit of analysis using the web tools in front of them. They don’t understand the analysis required to give them the insight they are looking for, despite having the tactical ability to execute the changes required coming out of the analysis. But their ego doesn’t want to admit to not knowing, being wrong, having the wrong strategy, asking for help, or just being out of their depth. So they shrug off the problem by working harder and throwing money at the problem, figuring that as long as the revenue keeps coming in everything will be OK.

In most of the above examples, the fundamental piece which puts the puzzle together is doing the hard yards to figure out the details. It means late nights. It means big spreadsheets. It means trying, and trying, and trying again until you find the data you’re looking for. It means the “hard yards”. They are called the “hard yards” because that’s what they are. The problem, in life, business, relationships, and most things where people are concerned, is that we generally wimp out when things get hard. But that’s where the winning is done.

So what’s the startup / entrepreneur lesson?
The data doesn’t lie. But make sure you’re looking at the right data from the beginning. Make this the way you look at all data.

When I look back, and this is the reason why I’m so angry with myself and a few other people and things (hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it), I think that whilst we created a very clear set of KPI’s to measure against, and they were at our fingertips all the time, these metrics were probably two layers up from the detail that should have been looked at every week (in the right way, not the superficial way). So they were aggregated up and then reviewed. I trusted that the detailed analysis was being done by the people I had hired. When the numbers were growing, I didn’t question. When the numbers weren’t growing the way I wanted, I got shrugs and cute answers. I got told eventually it couldn’t be done.

The problem with this approach is that because the things you need to DO are buried inside the detail, the actions coming out of this evaluation are too high level to be meaningful.

So I think the way to solve for this (as anyone who has to make decisions), is to start at the very bottom yourself, so that your systems for reporting enable you to dig really deep really fast when you need to, so that you can interrogate quickly and without any of the distraction caused by the people problems described above (and of course there are many, many more).

So where am I ?
I’ve now got more insight and actionable data than I’ve ever had before. I’ve got something which paints a very clear target for us to go after. I’ve answered some of my own questions, by doing the work myself. I’ve debunked the shruggers. I’ve found the data to give me the confidence to back my gut instinct. And now I’ve got a highly fragmented niche to dominate… ;-)


The more I work with people, the more I realise vested accountable interest makes a big difference.

I am still, however, surprised at the number of people who have, what I would call, real reasons to perform, who make up really silly and lame excuses for under delivering or not delivering at all.

The fact that you did it yourself puts you in such a power position. It will take a lot for someone to try to argue with you about the data and knowing your boss/employer/client can do it without you is a really good motivator to prove yourself ‘needed’.

by Nathan Jeffery on November 13, 2014 at 4:37 am. Reply #

Find your articles interesting & informative & look forward to more of them.

by Glyndwr Kaplen on June 24, 2018 at 11:42 am. Reply #

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