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Cedric Chin

Cedric Chin commoncog.com

Goodhart's Law isn't as useful as you might think

Cedric Chin, writing about the famous adage that says “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

At some level, this is self-evident. Goodhart’s Law is about as pithy and about as practicable as “the only certainty in life is death and taxes” and “hell is other people.” It is descriptive; it tells you of the existence of a phenomenon, but it doesn’t tell you what to do about it or how to solve it.

There are more useful formulations of the law that help solve it. Some organizations use this narrower, more actionable form:

When people are pressured to meet a target value there are three ways they can proceed:

  1. They can work to improve the system
  2. They can distort the system
  3. Or they can distort the data

With that framing in hand, Cedric goes on to describe how you can solve for these three ways and design incentive/measurement systems that work.

Cedric Chin commoncog.com

Focus is saying no to good ideas

This is one of those pieces of advice that is easy to say, but hard to do. Cedric Chin:

The only problem with this advice is that it’s trite — it sounds obvious; people don’t take it seriously; it’s a cliché. But it really isn’t any of those things, not if you’re actually trying to put it to practice. One of the more interesting things about focus is that you can see it in good operators, if you know how to look. But it happens to also be really difficult to do.

Instead of articulating a fully-fleshed out theory of focus, I want to do something different here. I’m going to tell you a handful of stories. This should do more to illustrate the nature of focus in business than anything else that I can say. Let’s get started.

Some good stories follow. I’ll just add that good ideas is just one category of things that focus means saying “no” to. Another major category is good opportunities.

When you’re first getting started in your career, you are short on opportunities and long on time. But success breeds success. At a certain point, that relationship flips and you have more opportunities (actual, good ones) than you have time. Saying “no” to the wrong ones and “yes” to the right ones is another lesson in and of itself, but the same thing is in danger: your focus.

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