In the startup world there is much talk about the dangers of vanity metrics: things like registered users, page views, or downloads. These are metrics that many startups use to tout their growth or influence but are often things that are easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to things that matter: active users, engagement, revenues, and profits.
Some people (often the very goal-oriented among us) are also guilty of applying vanity metrics to our lives as a measure of progress or happiness. I was particularly thinking of this today for two reasons: 1) I was supposed to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC this Sunday and 2) I haven’t seen my girlfriends in more than three weeks.
There was an article published by Fast Company last week on “Why Education Without Creativity Isn’t Enough“. It was a fascinating look at the Indian education system with its focus on STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and learning methods like rote memorization and standardization. While the entire article is worth reading, one quotation stuck out for me:
At the top of the market are the jobs everyone wants. And guess what? These jobs require creativity, problem solving, decision making, persuasive arguing, and management skills. In this echelon, a worker’s skills are unique, not interchangeable… Workers at every level benefit from an education that emphasizes creative thinking, communication, and teamwork – the very kind of excellence already offered at top American colleges.
It was an interesting juxtaposition to the pieces being written in response to Occupy Wall Street that focus on the “useless” majors American kids are choosing like philosophy, English, or the arts, which make them “unemployable.” While I have no interest in sharing my personal politics on this blog, I do have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the term “useless” when applied to just about anything, let alone education. Given my own “useless” education in both classical music and theater I thought I might have a bit of a soapbox to stand on.
I’d like to go on the record: Studying the arts was the best preparation for my life in entrepreneurship. Bar none.
One of my Twitter crushes, Whitney Johnson, recently posted a question from a session at BIF7 asking, “What verb makes you happiest? How do you conjugate this verb for as long as possible?” It was a fascinating question, and reminded me a passage in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love in which the Julia Roberts’ character tries to figure out what the word was that best described New York (achieve), Los Angeles (succeed), and Rome (sex). It was an important moment for Gilbert’s protagonist because, after a devastating divorce, she was struggling to determine who she was and where she fit in the world.
The question Whitney posed struck a chord because I realized it was a challenge to apply the same logic from Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love to building a career path — determining the defining verb of what makes us happy and using that to chart a course for our professional lives. It makes so much more sense to me than defining it through an industry or a function. It’s the verb that describes what you want to do all day long, once you strip your work down to the core.
In the startup world a lot of noise has been made about the Lean Startup Movement, made popular by Eric Ries, first through his blog and, most recently, through his best-selling book. One of the tenets of a Lean Startup is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which he defines as the “fastest way to get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop with the minimum amount of effort.” I won’t go into the MVP too much, mostly since I can point to other blogs who have done it far better than I could (like here and here).