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Did you grow up watching Dexter's Lab too?

"Teaching how to think is better than lecturing what to do."
- James Altucher

When I was a little kid in school (maybe 10 years old), I was as geeky as a kid could get. I was very inspired by Dexter, boy genius, of Dexter's Lab, and wanted to have my own Science lab in the basement of my house. I even tried getting a few of my friends to buy into the idea so that they could chip in some money for building it. Needless to say, I never built my own lab in my basement. But I did manage to get a telescope out of all this.

This was my first exposure to 'thinking' rather than 'doing what is told'. While most kids in my class would go play during free periods and watch cartoons or play all day on weekends, I used to attend Astronomy workshops and Math lectures that weren't at all meant for me (or for someone of my age group). But questioning how things worked and having someone answer those patiently and enthusiastically was a lot more fun than playing cricket or board games again and again (I enjoyed these too, but not as much). 

Perhaps my most rebellious period in life as a student has been when people stopped convincing me to do something a certain way by winning a rational argument and started lecturing what needs to be done and how. 

Very broadly, everything I've liked has been something that has taught me how to think, either by questioning my assumptions and biases or by highlighting examples that don't fit in my way of thinking. And everything that has failed to evoke interest in me has been something that has done neither and has reasoning based on assumptions that I haven't agreed with.

We are now in the age of data driven and metric driven decision making. We take pride in our decisions when we can clearly measure their outcome and their impact. While this is not necessarily bad, this is training our brains to do things that move certain metrics. 

Most religious practices and superstitions come to life in this manner. When they were initially practised, they very likely had rational logic behind them. But, over time, as they propagated, the underlying assumptions failed to be questioned and were taken for granted. Thus, leading people to follow those practices without being able to rationally reason out why it needs to be done.

We could be falling into a similar pit with our over-emphasis on metrics. Metrics are like the assumptions that superstitions are based on. Their relevance to our products and our businesses need to be constantly questioned and re-evaluated or the decisions we make to improve them will be similar to asking an astrologer when would be the right time to launch your product in a new country. 

As Product Managers, when we define metrics that measure the health of our product, it is important to not lecture the rest of the people involved in building and shipping the product on what to do to move those metrics. Instead, we need to teach them how to think in a way that will help move those metrics, or the underlying intangibles that these metrics are a proxy for.

Like the law, we do not want to be chasing metrics in the word, but we want to be chasing them in spirit.

PS: If any of my ex-teachers are reading this (or if any school teacher is), I'd love to come speak to kids at your school and try to teach them how to think than lecture them on what to do.

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