False proxies

Young people are often told they have time to figure out what they want in life. Though, no one tells them about the consequences.

I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what I want to do.

In college, I took classes spanning science, philosophy, business and other subjects I found interesting. In terms of professional experience, I’ve worked at a few startups and at a late stage company.

A question I get asked often is, “why have you moved around so much?” Until recently, I didn’t know how to answer.

Seth Godin defines the false proxy trap as,

Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation.

TV advertisers, for example, could never tell which viewers would be impacted by an ad, so instead, they measured how many people saw it. Or a model might not be able to measure beauty, but a bathroom scale was a handy stand in.

A business person might choose cash in the bank as a measure of his success at his craft, and a book publisher, unable to easily figure out if the right people are engaging with a book, might rely instead on a rank on a single bestseller list. One last example: the non-profit that uses money raised as a proxy for difference made.

You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the very thing you set out to achieve in the first place. 

Seth Godin, Avoiding the false proxy trap

Now, when someone asks me about my experience I tell them:

My north star for the past three years was to de-risk myself as a founder. To de-risk myself as a founder I needed to work in marketing, product, operations and sales in different environments.

I frame my experience from the perspective of the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met. This helps the other person understand why experience is a false proxy in judging my abilities and potential.

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