Compare Yourself to Yourself

I’m a big proponent of using scorecards to monitor progress to well-defined objectives. Earlier in my career, I ran a software company that used scorecards to help dozens of companies around the world ensure their execution was in line with their strategy. When using scorecards, I’ve cautioned that unless you compare yourself against an external benchmark you might not know whether you’re really making progress.

This quote from the HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett made me think about these long-held beliefs:

The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.

For individuals, an outer scorecard could turn into an unhealthy comparison to what others have. This might be based on unrealistic expectations (“I wish I was as tall as he is”) or material comparisons (“she has more money than I have”). While comparing yourself to others can be motivational, too often it becomes destructive and, in the extreme, can allow others to drive your behavior. To make matters worse, you often compare their best features against your average ones.

On the other hand, an inner scorecard relies on internal comparisons. You ask yourself whether you are improving your performance, making progress towards goals, or focusing on things important to you. Relying on self-motivation can be difficult for many people but, when done well, forces you to focus on your values and beliefs.

While I understand Buffet’s caution, I believe a blend of internal and external comparisons can work for both individuals and corporations. The key is to focus and to understand you can’t be the best in everything. For example, if you want to compare yourself on ten different dimensions, pick one or two you want to excel in (best in class or nearly so). For these one or two focus dimensions, use an outer scorecard to compare yourself to everyone else.

For the rest of the dimensions, an outer scorecard should show that you are above average. Instead, an inner scorecard is usually preferable for these dimensions, as its more important to show you are making continuous improvements rather than external comparisons.

In other words, for most things you should compare yourself to yourself. Except for those things you want to be best at.

Some Records Will Never Be Broken

The old saying “records are made to be broken” reinforces that, no matter how great the achievement, someone will eventually surpass it. The record holder is reminded to be humble, recognizing that his/her accomplishment is significant but not permanent. Everyone else is encouraged to continue to push their limits, knowing that someone will eventually break the record.

A recent near-record performance got me wondering whether there were any records which were unbreakable. It might technically be possible for these records to be broken but statisticians would say the probability is near zero. The rest of us would say: it ain’t gonna happen.

After some research, I decided the most unbreakable record in sports is Cy Young’s 749 career complete games. If you’re a baseball fan, you might have expected me to cite Cy Young’s 511 wins over his 22 year career. I agree that’s remarkable and highly unlikely to be broken. But the complete games record is iron clad safe.

To put the complete game record in perspective, only three pitchers (Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, and Don Sutton) even made at least 749 starts in their careers. Furthermore, these days relief pitchers appear in virtually every game which means complete games are now a rarity. No active pitcher has 40 complete games. With an average of 3 complete games per season, Clayton Kershaw would have to pitch for 274 more years to break Cy Young’s record.

Cy Young’s complete game record will never be broken.

Here are some other unbreakable records, listed one per sport:

Wayne Gretzky, NHL: 2,857 Career Points Scored

The only active player with even half of Wayne Gretzky’s total is Jaromír Jágr with 1868 career points. Jágr has averaged 1.147 points per game in his career. At age 44, Jágr would have to play at least 11 more seasons to catch Gretzky. That’s not going to happen.

Archie Griffin, NCAAF: Two Heisman Trophies

Griffin won the Heisman for most outstanding college football player twice, in 1974 and 1975. No one else has won it twice before or since. With the lure of NFL riches, no future two-time Heisman winner would stay in school to try to win the award a third time. This record will not be broken.

Fernando Tatis, MLB: Two Grand Slams in One Inning

Unless you’re a Cardinals fan, you might not have heard of Tatis who hit two grand slams in one inning on April 23, 1999 against the Dodgers. To put that in perspective, only thirteen players have hit two grand slams in the same game and no one has done it more than once in a career. Maybe one day someone will hit two in an inning again but not three.

Wilt Chamberlain, NBA: 50.4 Points Per Game In A Season

It would probably be heresy not to choose Wilt Chamberlain to represent the NBA in this list. Wilt holds more than 70 NBA records, including several that may never be broken. Of all of his records, the most unbreakable might that Wilt scored an average of 50.4 points per game in the 1961 season. That’s an average of more than 50 points over an 80 game season. The closest that anyone has ever come to Wilt’s record is the 37.1 points per game that Michael Jordan scored in the ’86 season.

Otto Graham, NFL: 10 Consecutive Championship Game Appearances

I had a tough time choosing which unbreakable record would represent the NFL. I was tempted to go with Don Shula’s 347 career coaching victories but Bill Belichick could conceivably catch him. Instead, the NFL’s most unbreakable record comes from Otto Graham, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns played in the championship for their last four years in the All-America Football Conference and their first six years in the NFL, winning 8 of these 10 championship games. And Otto was the QB for all ten. An unbreakable record.

What unbreakable record do you think I missed?

March Madness Metrics: 2015 Edition

It’s March Madness, Baby!

Most readers will recognize this catch-phrase celebrating the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament whose opening rounds just concluded. The tournament includes 64 teams organized into four separate regions which play over three long weekends until deciding a champion. Some – including me – believe it’s the most exciting tournament in all of sports, due to its history of close games and dramatic finishes.

While the term ‘March Madness’ is often used to describe the entire tournament, the opening four days which reduce the field from 64 teams to the so-called Sweet Sixteen usually produce the most drama. Over the 30 years with this tournament format, the four #1 seeds have never lost in the first round to their #16 seed opponent but the remaining seeds have not been nearly as stable. The #5 vs. #12 matchup has been particularly volatile with the 5-seed only winning 63.3% of the time. By comparison, the 6-seed has beaten the 11-seed more often, 65.8% of the time. The #8 vs. #9 is essentially a toss-up; in fact, the lower seeded team has won slightly more often.

With so many upsets, it’s tough to pick one that stands out but I’m partial to the 1991 semifinal game between UNLV and Duke. UNLV had won 45 games in a row and had beaten Duke by 30 points in the 1990 finals. But the Dukies — led by Christian Laettner — won 79-77. That game, and the infamous buzzer-beater against Kentucky the following year, sparked a generation of Duke and Laettner haters.

Speaking of Kentucky: they are on a 36-game win streak and are looking to avoid UNLV’s fate. They have decent odds. 18 teams have entered the NCAA tournament undefeated and 7 of them have won the national championship. Intriguingly Kentucky might meet Duke in the title game.

Some other tournament factoids:

  • This year, many people had all of the 1-seeds going to Final Four in their brackets but it’s only happened once before, in 2008. Villanova’s loss to NC State ensures it won’t happen in 2015 and marks the 14th time the top seed has lost in the second round.
  • How surprising is it that two 3-seeds lost in the opening round? Before this year, they were 102-18 (85%) and only two 3-seeds had lost in the first round over the last decade. However, it has happened before; two 3-seeds also lost in the opening round back in 1986.
  • There have been some amazing performances over the years. Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored a tournament record 61 points vs. Ohio on Mar 7, 1970. Loyola Marymount scored a record 149 vs Michigan twenty years later on Mar 18, 1990. The largest winning margin in the tournament is 69 points: Loyola Chicago defeated Tennessee Tech 111 to 42 in 1963.

The NCAA tournament has had a proud tradition since Villanova defeated Brown 42-30 in the very first game on March 17, 1939. Regardless of which team you root for, with so many upsets already this year, the tournament makes for an entertaining – an unpredictable – experience.

That’s the madness of March.

MBWA 2012 in review

6 1/2 years into my hosted WordPress blog, the only complaint I’ve ever had is the statistics are a bit weak. As someone who ran a Web site analysis company more than a decade ago,  it’s always been surprising to me that all of the reports are based on page views.

However, the statistics have significantly improved over the last year. For example, the reports now distinguish between views, visits and visitors. In the last month I’ve averaged 1.6 views per visitor. Since very few visitors are tracked across sessions, this suggests that 1 out of 2 visitors to my blog reads two posts. That’s a pretty good result.

On the fun side, the so-called WordPress “stats helper monkeys” prepare an annual report. Here’s a (slightly-edited) excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. Manage By Walking Around was viewed about 83,000 times in 2012. If my blog were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take more than 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Shout out to Shawn Carter.

From their report, these are the posts on my blog that got the most views in 2012:

  1. 10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life July 2012
  2. Performance Management Quotes Feb 2009
  3. Scorecards vs. Dashboards Aug 2006
  4. Dilbert on risk management Dec 2008
  5. Culture eats strategy for breakfast May 2010

Since it’s ranked third, even though I wrote the post 6 years ago, I can only assume people are still confused about the difference between a scorecard and a dashboard.  Maybe that’s good news: people will keep reading my blog.

What’s Missing from your Balanced Scorecard?

Mark Graham Brown has published a short, but insightful, piece about eight categories of metrics that are often poorly designed called ‘What’s Missing from Your Scorecard?’.  I won’t incude the full article here since it’s available for purchase on Harvard Business Online, but Mark suggests that the eight areas that should be better represented on a balanced scorecard are as follows:

  • Customer aggravation
  • External factors
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Brand image
  • Customer attractiveness and relationships
  • Communication effectiveness
  • Employee health and safety
  • Ethics

Mark’s issue with employee satisfaction is that most companies measure it annually which provides little opportunity to take action on the findings.  While I agree, I also worry about organizations that use surrogate measures of satisfaction like average length of service or retention percentage.  To make matters worse, as I discovered in my own career, many employee satisfaction surveys suffer from the Coke vs Pepsi problem.

I also like Mark’s suggestion on brand image.  Instead of the traditional brand surveys (which are also measured annually), use a sentiment analysis tool to listen to the voice of the customer.  This can provide an early warning radar for topics or regions might have pending issues.

From my point of view, the other thing missing from most balanced scorcards is focus.  Too many scorecards are littered with metrics with little strategic value that appear largely because they are easy to measure, rather than because they provide insight into an organization’s performance.  As I frequently remind people, “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

(Note: Mark’s article provides a great example of measurement missteps at a fried chicken franchise.   By focusing on an efficiency metric at the expense of customer satisfaction, one store owner came out looking like a turkey.)