Data is one of the most powerful tools we have to analyze and understand the way people behave. But the one problem with data is that it doesn’t do a good job of tracking the effect your work has on yourself. While having good data is vital there are some compelling studies that indicate that focusing on your results first and foremost won’t help you build the confidence, compassion, or resilience you’ll need to have a successful business and a rich life.
Which is why if you want to create a product or build a business without losing your soul in the process, you need to include creating a better you as an essential feature of everything you build.
A Case for Less G-Damned Data
Data is awesome! When you’ve got data you can track everything. You can know if your customers like a blue button instead of a red one. You can see which of your blog posts got the most shares. You can see how many minutes it takes on average to close a sale. Hell, you can even see how your diet is effecting your patterns of sleep.
It might help you know if you’re getting richer or not, or whether your audience is growing, but it can’t tell you whether you’re maturing and becoming a more confident, compassionate and resilient person.
In fact there is some science that indicates that focusing on your results and your results alone may actually be making you more of a jerk.
The Danger of Focusing on Results
In 2001 research labs in 3 different states decided to find out how focusing on your achievements vs your inherent qualities affected confidence, compassion, and your ability to bounce back from negative events.
In each test, subjects were primed in one of three ways:
- Group 1: was asked to focus on “whatever is most revealing of your true inner qualities”
- Group 2: was asked to focus on “achievements that show how competent and talented you are”
- Group 3: was asked to pretend to be a famous person and focus on those qualities as a control.
Then the researchers ran 3 different experiments:
Experiment 1: In the first experiment subjects were given a fake test and then given the option to compare their score with those of other test takers. In order to find out how confident they were in their own abilities.
Experiment 2: In the next experiment subjects were asked to rate the likeability of a person based on a description that presented them as needy, clingy, and depressed. In this experiment the purpose was to find out how what a person focuses on affects their compassion for others.
Experiment 3: In the final experiment subjects were asked to reflect on a negative event and “list some specific actions that could have either improved the outcome of that event or made the outcome even worse.” The idea with this experiment was to find out whether a change in focus would help subjects reframe negative events in a positive light.
And here is what they discovered:
While focusing on your inherent qualities can help you be more confident, compassionate, and resilient focusing on, your achievements have little to no effect.
What This Means for Our Data Driven Culture
Well I wouldn’t go that far. Data is still an important tool to understand how to grow a business and create something of value. It just really sucks at making you a better person and that’s why I think focusing on it too much can actually be really bad for you and bad for your business.
We’ve all observed people who seemingly squander their fame and success in a soulless pursuit of the numbers. And I think part of the reason they do this is that looking at data is a little like doing crack.
I’ve noticed this in myself when I see my blog views going up or when some more people share a post; I get a little shot of dopamine to my brain. And while getting traction can feel good, the high is limited.
If on the other hand I focus on what I love about the work I do and the qualities in myself that make that possible, something changes. Now I am no longer dependent on the bump in my numbers to make me feel good. I’m also not as bummed out when they flatten out or I create something that doesn’t take off.
Instead of going from the highs of success to the lows of failure I find myself riding the wave of passion and desire to serve that comes from the very core of my being.
It doesn’t mean I don’t try to create posts that get views or to sign up clients who can pay me for my coaching. It simply means I’m not hanging my heart on the numbers, instead I let my brain track the data while my soul holds on to what I love about my work.
I think the challenge that faces anyone who wants to build something great is to walk the tight rope between focusing enough on the numbers to think strategically and enough on yourself so that when you get to the top, it’s you that actually does it.
To make a lasting difference you have to be the kind of person people can look up to for all the right reasons.
Schimel, Jeff, Jamie Arndt, Tom Pyszczynski, and Jeff Greenberg. “Being Accepted for Who We Are.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80 (2001): 35– 52.
Kohn, Alfie (2006-03-28). Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (Kindle Locations 3906-3908). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.