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The Right Proxies

Wharton Moneyball Super Bowl Show.

“I was blessed to know Bill (Belichick) back in college. We worked together for seventeen years. Bill can make complicated game plans but his general principles aren’t very difficult. He had three rules: be on time, pay attention, and work hard. Those seem like simple things but when you’re deaing with players who are entitled, who do things on their own, they have to buy into that system and fall in line. Bill didn’t care how many earings, how many tattoos, how long your hair was. That had nothing to do with discipline.

Scott Pioli

Using proxies can be helpful or not. It all depends how accurately they map to what matters. When Roger Paloff from Fortune Magazine looked into Theranos, he didn’t understand the science and talked to the board members instead. If these smart, accomplished, wealthy people think this makes sense, it must make sense the thinking went.

Other times, proxies are toxic. Often times, it’s for easy-to-measure things. People love the authority of numbers, regardless of how well they map to reality. Another proxy-tally-folly is mistaking action for effectiveness. Regarding productivity, Cal Newport writes, “busyness is not a proxy for productivity.”

It’s impossible to predict the future so we rely on things that, looking back, were present in good outcomes. Sabermetrics using numbers, not if someone looks good in jeans. Belichick avoids appearances too. Those things come to mind easily, but may not be good proxies. 

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