Something about this 100-days conversation isn’t working for me.
President Obama will celebrate his 100th day in office with a town hall meeting in St. Louis and a nationally televised press conference from the White House. He’ll use those events to highlight his successes, in addressing the flagging economy, rebuilding the reputation of the United States around the globe, beginning the hard work on climate change, education, healthcare, and more.
The media will mark the occasion by delivering their ‘report card’ of his performance. I suspect they will give him relatively high marks for his work on the issues, including his shift in focus on the war (away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan), his approach on the economy (more stimulus funds, a focus on a green economy), and his commitment to changing education, healthcare, environmental, and even national service policy. They will probably ding him for failing to achieve true bi-partisanship in Washington, by falling short on some of his campaign promises, and similar.
How do we know? It is clear that 100 days is not a sufficient amount of time to judge whether this administration will successfully move our nation in the right direction. The exercise still has value, and application to our work, but we must take a broader view for any measure to be meaningful.
Typically, when thinking about how to measure success we talk about goals (the need to have them, and be able to clearly articulate them) and execution (whether your actions lead to those goals being met). The problem is that our goals are not designed to be met in such a short time, which makes measuring progress towards them challenging. And as I have said many times before, activity is not a good measure of impact, so listing out all the the work you have done doesn’t mean you are on the right track with any of your activites. Goals and execution don’t take into account everything else that goes into our work – our lives, our families, where we live, and what is happening the world around us. These structured ways of measuring success and failure, defining progress or decline, are too rigid.
How should we measure success? Should we be trying to apply grades at all (or is it just a convenient way to frame the discussion)? And perhaps most importantly, what should we do with the grades that we receive – good or bad?
Let me see if I can give myself a report card.
My professional goal is to help organizations change the way they communicate, by helping them to understand the impact that technology and the internet have on our society and how that reshapes everything we do. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. I want to change the things about our society – the way we teach and learn, do business, how our government works, how we solve problems in our community. I have a number of different strategies for meeting that goal. I work directly with organizations to help create successful projects, and use those projects to help other organizations to improve their work. I write and speak regularly about how technology and the internet can be used more effectively by brands, nonprofits, political organizations, and others, so that people who I am not able to work with directly can still learn from my experiences. I read, watch, and listen to as much news and information as possible, so I can try to make sense of what is happening in the world and help others in my network, online and offline, to navigate what is changing in in their work and life.
I certainly believe I am good at what I do and the people I work with, and engage directly, are benefiting from the information that I share and guidance I provide. But i could have more clients and make more money. I have written some good blog posts and keynoted some important events. Still, my book didn’t make any major best seller lists when it first came out last year, and the audience for my blogging, tweeting and speaking could be larger. And despite having worked in and around these issues for a decade and having significant experience and success, other ‘experts’ in the areas in which I work seem to have more traction for their messaging (even if, in some cases, I don’t think what they are saying is right or as good). If I had to give myself a grade on my work, I would think a low B, or maybe even a C, would be appropriate. My success has been average. I continue to make gains and I certainly enjoy my work, but I have a lot of work to do until I achieve my goal.
I haven’t written out a set of goals for my life in the same way I have for work, or clear strategies for meeting those goals (perhaps I should). I know that I want to be healthy and happy, that I want to have a family and feel as if I have more than just my work to keep me engaged. I am happily married to a wonderful, supportive, and understanding woman and together we are raising a really terrific 17-month old son. When I say ‘together’ I really mean it too — my wife, Karen, works part-time leading government relations for a major national nonprofit organization, and while she is at the office I am at home with our son. When I am working, she is takes care of him. We are a team. And perhaps most imoprtantly, in the time that my wife and I have been together, and especially in the last couple of years as we became parents, my perspectives on what is important in life have changed and my ability and desire to balance work and home has increased. Its not all easy though. I generally don’t feel as if there are enough hours in the day to get everything done and there are still times when I am paying more attention to my iPhone than the conversation my son is trying to have with me (for which I am embarrassed and ashamed). I have been so consumed by work at times, or away on travel so much, that I have forgotten important events or missed important conversations. If I had to give myself a grade on my life, I would think a B is in order. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life right now, but there are still some things I would like to do, and do better.
If you ask me tomorrow I will almost certainly give you a different set of grades. The same for the next day and the day after. If I have a bad day at work my scores drop. When my son and I go to watch a little league game in our neighborhood, there is no number or letter could reflect how perfect everything feels at that moment. If you pick out any single moment you won’t get a complete pictures. And I am ok with that. I will never satisfy every work objective I have and yet I can still recognize how much more important reading a book with my son is to me over the long run. I can know know that my wife and I have built a tremendous relationship, and still have ambitions for work that nothing else can satisfy.
That is how it is supposed to be, right? No single measure of success can fully capture everything that we are involved in, and no metric can be applied to everyone. Whether you are talking about work, life, or anything else. Profitablity doesn’t take into account the larger impact that a company has on its community or the people it employs. The big trends we use to gauge how things are going don’t focus much on the individual perspectives.
I believe the world is changing, and that technology and the internet have shifted our perspective on what is important and how we engage organizations, information, and eachother. Its clear to me that our world today is very different than it was just a few years ago, and much more will change in the years ahead. Regardless, how we measure success and failure is what is probably more important. And that needs to change more than anything.