Numbers don’t lie, but you need to know the context

Numbers don’t lie, but you need to know the context

Numbers can fool people. They often do.

Product delivery teams get hung up on metrics.

Management gets fixated on numbers.

Questions like “how long will it take”, “how many lines of code”, “how many test cases”, “how many bugs”, “how long will you take to fix / test it”, are not useful.

Numbers are like sock puppets. They don’t tell a story for themselves and they certainly don’t talk for themselves.

It’s people who interpret the numbers. They “choose” how they want to interpret them.

For example:

A 3 week development cycle can be too short or too long depending on the context.

A list of 500 bugs can be humongous or can be “Phew! Only 500 bugs!”.

Without context, numbers will almost always fool people. Because then it will depend on people how they interpret those numbers.

For example:

A salesperson who is too keen to get something on the market to achieve their target will be too anxious to see a long list of bugs.

While a product manager who knows the complexity of the product and the basis of the bugs will be receptive to the same list of bugs without any worries.

So, next time you come across a metric, ask for the context.

Ask what those numbers mean and what they represent.

Ask what will happen if they are much lower or extremely high.

Try to seek the underlying complexity that lies behind the illusion of simplicity.

Maybe it’s the illusion of simplicity that fools us, and not the numbers. 

What matters is to find out what needs to be found out before jumping on the conclusions.

How a neighbour taught me a quick lesson in divergent mindset, and gifted me 12 books too

How a neighbour taught me a quick lesson in divergent mindset, and gifted me 12 books too

I learned a great lesson from my neighbour (and got these books as gift).

You will enjoy this story. Read on!

Last night on my evening walk I stopped by to say hello to a retired, wealthy neighbor.

As we chatted, he asked me if I read books. He seemed quite pleased when I said that I read a lot. He then invited me to come inside and see his library, which he seemed very proud of.

It was a big library. He showed me some of his favorite books and as we talked more, I noticed that he was happy to talk to someone who had the same thought process. He ended up giving me a gift of 12 books, some of which were on Donald Trump.  And that is what I found interesting!

Curious, I asked him if he was a Trump supporter, to which he said that he was not. Obviously, I asked him then why he read books on Trump.

Then came a good advice…

He said that to understand someone’s mindset and to form an opinion about them, you must learn about them first. He then went on to explain that while he did not agree with everything that Trump did or said, he felt that it was important to read about him and his ideas before he placed a judgement on him.

As I left my neighbor’s house with my stack of books, I felt grateful for his generosity and the lesson he had imparted. This conversation made me realize that it is easy to form opinions and judgments about people without really understanding them or where they are coming from.

Reading books on a variety of topics and perspectives can broaden our minds and help us to see the world in a more nuanced way.

I might take long time to read these books, or might not read some of them at all, but I am grateful for the reminder that it is important to keep an open mind and to approach things with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Although, I am excited to dive into the books especially the ones on Trump, to learn more about the former president, what his thought process was and how he formed his policies.

You never know what you might discover when you take the time to truly understand someone else’s perspective.

I wrote a post about perspective and perception recently. Have a look if you wish to learn more about what these terms mean.

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Perception and Perspective

Perception and Perspective

“Hey Rajesh, there is a perception that you don’t do <X>!”

The consultant that the company had hired told me.

“Oh! Who in the team think that I don’t do <X>?

“Mate, I can’t tell you that. But perception is reality.”

Only after few years of leaving that place I found out that it was him who created a perception. He wanted more influence (and more business) and I used to question things. Well!

In that case, I did not receive any useful and actionable feedback. This is unfortunate that such scenarios are far too common where people receive vague comments instead of actionable feedback.

At Microsoft, we use the word “Perspective” to get our colleague’s point of view about how one is performing, what they are doing well and where they can improve. This mechanism allows people to receive all-round feedback and not just someone’s perception.

So, what’s the difference between perception and perspective?

Can you define each of those clearly? Most people find it hard to explain what they mean by perception and perspective.

Yet, both of these things are important for us to understand the world around us, assign meaning to what we observe and then decide whether to act or not.

You may hear some people saying that perception is reality, but I find that unintelligent. Saying that is only an excuse for not thinking clearly and critically.

What is perception and perspective?

Perception is the interpretation of things that we see, hear, smell or feel. It is what we ‘believe’ we understand after receiving a sensory input and then define a meaning that we apply to a situation, person or a thing.

For example, look at the cartoon above. Depending on how you look at it, you can easily perceive number six (6) to be number nine (9). You may even fight with someone about being right.

Perspective comes via and after perception. In other words, perception leads to perspective. It is our point of view that we build based on our perception.

If you are thinking that both perception and perspective will together in determining how we interpret things and build a point of view, then you are right.

This cartoon that I found on internet is also a good example of how perception of a given situation creates a point of view (perspective).

The image below is a good and powerful example of how perception and perspective play an important role in building our PoV.

  • What will you perceive if you only look at the first part of the image?
  • What will you think if you only see the last part of the image?
  • What is your point of view about the situation?
  • After seeing the full image, did your perspective change?

Note: The above image was created by Ursula Dahmen. Find the details here:

What was surprising for my own interpretation of the above image was to discover that the soldier on the left wasn’t pointing the gun at the other soldier’s head. It was strapped to the soldier’s back.

Even that interpretation might not be correct until we hear the truth from the horse’s mouth.

Perception and perspective in work scenarios:

Passionately debating is quite common in some cultures.

It is also natural to have debates and discussions at work. A person who is only an observer and noticing the arguments, all the back and forth from both sides and sometimes the treated voices out of passion might perceive the debate as a fight.

This observer might build a point of view that the people debating are causing trouble at the workplace and might decide to complain about them to their seniors.

Based on this observer’s complaint, the senior folks might build a perception too and decide to take punitive action against the people who were merely debating a topic related to their work.

So, while perception is not reality, it may manipulate the reality. Unless one seriously pays attention, find all facts about a situation and critically examine them, perception may turn into a belief.

As managers, leaders, parents or friends, it is our responsibility that we learn about our perceptions and do not let them affect our perspective merely through quick judgement.

That is not easy, but at least we can try.

The Problem of Overthinking Problems

The Problem of Overthinking Problems

People inadvertently overthink problems.

I lead some large (MM$) initiatives with sizable teams. One thing that I’ve observed, and have been observing for a while which has been consistent is that people spend way too much time over-thinking problems and solutions. Why do they do that? You might have read about Occam’s (or Ockham’s) razor. This principle explains that there should not be more options than necessary. In simpler terms, things should not be blown out of proportion. Occam’s razor – Wikipedia

So why do people (and teams in organisations) overthink problems? Here are few things that I’ve noticed.
Ownership and Accountability: Sometimes teams don’t take ownership to avoid accountability. That is, they respond slow and hope someone else will take ownership. Sounds like culture issues, right?
Empowerment (or the lack of): Sometimes teams do not feel empowered and confident of the solutions they work on. Again, these are often culture issues. “Even if we find a solution, boss will do what they want. Let’s spend more time and provide multiple options.”
Deliberate delays on finding solutions: The thinking that goes on here is, ‘if we sit on a problem, it may go away’. We even observe this phenomena in our personal lives sometimes. Do you remember ignoring that annoying headache for days, which turned out to be the…?
Anxiety of the outcome: “Stakes are high and our reputation matters. Let’s think it through.” Anxiety can be a challenge, specifically in toxic environments. It certainly affects teams when stakes are high.
Psychological safety: “if we make a mistake, there can be consequences. So, let’s think carefully, and in detail so that we don’t get punished.” It’s indeed very important aspect of small problems taking longer to solve.
Culture matters: Good culture matters more. Leaders must strive to improve culture. Once people see that they enjoy personal freedom, they start taking responsibility of their own actions, and over-thinking of small problems drops.

What’s the solution for not overthinking problems?

Change your perception. Perception changes everything. A problem could be an opportunity.