Thursday, June 09, 2011

Failure = Improvement

Charter schools are about as good on average as public schools. But because they can fail, they provide opportunity for improvement that public schools don't. Without failure, it's much harder to generate improvement.

The Freakonomics podcast recently featured this telling analogy: What if restaurants were run like public schools? Imagine if you were required to dine at your local government-run canteen, with dishes determined by a citywide restaurant Superintendent, with a no-firing policy for staff?

Sounds like a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke. "In Soviet Russia, restaurant eats you!". We instinctively realize that restaurants like Gramercy Tavern should succeed, while Joe's Yak Butter Hut should go out of business. Failure ensures survival of the tastiest.

Yet while few would support the idea of a restaurant Superintendent, we allow the same crazy system to educate our children.

I guess we consider our seared ahi salad more important than the future of our country.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Always Start With The End

In the startup world, you're always surrounded by uncertainty. There are always too many factors to consider, and your team members probably disagree. But you don't have to be paralyzed or choose blindly. Instead, follow this simple principle:
Always start with the end goals. Whenever you are stuck, refer back to those goals.
Our natural human reaction to all this uncertainty is to shift the scope to simplify the problem. Not a bad idea. The issue is that most of us instinctively narrow the scope. After all, that's the intuitive way to simplify.

However, narrowing the scope tends to produce tunnel vision and waste time on local optima. Think of all the times that the discussion of a complex problem goes down a proverbial rat hole as people focus on minutiae.

If you refer back to your end goals instead, you'll keep the team focused on what really matters.