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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

The crystal ball approach



Have you ever had the opportunity to ask a crystal ball (or a crystal ball gazer) to let you see your future? Neither have I. But I have read about plenty of them. And crystal ball is just an example. It could be any other equivalent like palm reading or hand writing analysis or star sign based astrology or any other piece of BS like that.

They all have something in common. Other than the fact that they are all utter BS, that is. Let's pretend for a second that it is not all utter BS and that you would actually believe in what you will see or hear coming out of it. In that case, what would you ask the crystal ball to show you?

Would you ask things like 'Show me my future' or 'How much money will I have in the bank?' or would you ask something that will give you a holistic picture of what you want out of your life? I would like to think the latter. 'Show me my future' is so vague that I wouldn't know what would cause whatever I end up seeing or what I have to do to prevent it or change it. And 'How much money will I have in the bank?' is so specific that it leaves out so many other aspects of my life.

But this is how we approach metrics to our products. We end up asking for clicks on a button (how much money in the bank equivalent) or adoption of our product (show me my future equivalent). Neither of these metrics are our end goal or immediately actionable. If clicks are low, we try to figure out why. If adoption is low, we try to figure out why. And that is when we realise we need some other metrics as well. These metrics are good to ask only when we hear the answer that we like to hear. Otherwise, they are useless. Well, not useless, but just a red flag for investigation.

The crystal ball approach to deciding what metrics to measure starts with what you'd like to see in the crystal ball. The holistic picture of what what you want out of your product. And when this exercise is done with Product Managers, they usually come up with metrics like how many people that used my product received value from it and rarely come up with number of clicks or revenue or adoption.

Because that's what matters most. If people are deriving value, it doesn't matter if adoption is low. If people are not deriving value, it doesn't matter if a lot of them are clicking through. They will stop sooner or later.

Start with what you want to see in the crystal ball and then work backwards from it to identify the other metrics that interest you. Don't measure everything that you can possibly measure and then try to figure out what the data is telling you. The data isn't telling you anything. You are simply using the data to validate whether what you hoped would happening is actually happening or not. And if not, why exactly it isn't.

And this is how I approach everything. Even Salsa. I look in the crystal ball and see myself dancing confidently at Socials with a variety of moves. When that is what I see in the crystal ball, it doesn't matter if I'm doing poorly in learning shines (individual moves to be performed without a partner) because that is a lower priority. I need to be focusing on what will get me to what I see in the crystal ball. 

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