#33 The peacock’s tail is not about efficiency
Lessons in Chesterton’s Fence, aha moment metrics, perfumery & humility
This is post # 33, I’ve published a post every Monday at 8 am for the last 33 weeks. I must admit, this is turning out to be the longest-lasting habit I’ve formed. It feels good.
I don't have any smart notes for the opening section today, so we will straight away jump to today's reads.
I came across a heuristic better known as Chesterton’s Fence. It offers a great lesson in decision making. For most of us who are always looking out for ways to improve & change, there is a word of caution too. Here I take a quick snapshot from the Farnam Street post on this topic:
In its most concise version, Chesterton’s Fence states the following: Do not remove a fence until you know why it was put up in the first place.
Chesterton went on to explain why this principle holds true, writing that fences don’t grow out of the ground, nor do people build them in their sleep or during a fit of madness. He explained that fences are built by people who carefully planned them out and “had some reason for thinking [the fence] would be a good thing for somebody.” Until we establish that reason, we have no business taking an ax to it. The reason might not be a good or relevant one; we just need to be aware of what the reason is. Otherwise, we may end up with unintended consequences: second- and third-order effects we don’t want, spreading like ripples on a pond and causing damage for years.
In no way, the principle discourages change. It just encourages understanding the rationale behind previous decisions. If we don’t understand how we got “here,” we run the risk of making things much worse.
Unless we know why someone made a decision, we can’t safely change it or conclude that they were wrong.
The first step before modifying an aspect of a system is to understand it. Observe it in full. Note how it interconnects with other aspects, including ones that might not be linked to you personally. Learn how it works, and then propose your change.
You would have heard the story of how Facebook used the “7 friends in 10 days” north star metric for early user growth. Many other consumer startups have used a similar approach.
In my work, we have been trying something similar as well. When we took up this challenge, we did not have any clear path laid out. So we have been tinkering on different ideas and approaches. This post on the 'Aha moments metrics' is a good primer on the topic. There are no jargons to worry about. The author has put this almost at the start to reduce any claims of 'we already know it':
... But the same concept has been previously largely known as leading indicators in the economics world, or correlative/correlation metrics in the statistics world. It is the main condition that provides a heads up of a certain behavior or trend which is likely to happen.
I wish I had access to these inputs earlier, it would have saved a couple of iterations in our approach.
Perfumery is, at its heart, deduction. When imagining a new fragrance, the perfumer draws on her knowledge of the scents already known to be agreeable; then, line by line, she assembles a formula that ought to produce the fragrance in her mind. Stated in general terms, she calculates a desirable output, then back-calculates the requisite input. The fragrance industry is beginning, uneasily, to embrace this computational view of its craft.
A fascinating read on the art & craft of perfumery. From stories from Grasse, Chanel N5 to investment from Bill & Melinda Gates foundation into making the future of sanitisation ‘pretty good’ - this post has left no stone untouched to make it ‘unputdownable’.
PS: Source allows free reading behind a login. If you want to save that effort, try this link. I’ve used 12ft.io to reference an unlocked version. This tool can help unlock paywalled articles from many other sources, bookmark & use it if you face that challenge regularly.
I’ve had the great privilege of learning from some of the best professors in my time at WIMWI. Some of them left a long-lasting impression for not just their teaching but the passion & style with which they did it. Prof Saral Mukherjee and Prof Abhinandan Jain top that list. A few months back I had shared a gem from Saral Da’s book Elephants and Cheetahs: The Beauty of Operations.
Here’s another post (in his own words) that shows why he creates such a deep impact on those who ‘learnt’ from him.
Some random goodness from the internet:
Fun read: Story of a disastrous 27-course ‘meal’ at a Micheline-starred restaurant. Hilarious post about the experience, and topped with even more hilarious reverts from the chef.
TVCs: Visit Sweden released some cool TVCs in the last couple of years. “Discover the original” with ref to IKEA is bold & fun. “Sweden Calling” takes a dig of sort on Sweden’s quirks. Some refreshing set of creatives!
Twitter: People Selling Mirror (@ SellingAMirror) - Sometimes when people sell mirrors online, they can't figure out how to get out of the way. This account curates dozens of such posts. I wonder what prompts people to collect such stuff.
Short reads: To discover some new topics & passions: 1) Women of the sea - the story of Korea’s oldest free divers on their underwater treasure hunt. 2) Speaking in whistles - dying art of using whistling for long-distance communication.
Before we sign off, here's a snapshot of a tweet worth saving.
That's all for this week, folks!
If you enjoyed this post, show your love by commenting and liking it. I write this newsletter to share what I learnt from others. If you learnt something from this today, why not share it with a couple of your friends to continue this chain?