Solving for x in the new world order.

I was thinking the other day about ‘mechanical advantage.’ It’s what we learned about in school as the way to measure the efficiency of such simple machines as levers and pulleys. If it took 100 pounds of pulling power to lift a 600-pound weight with a block and tackle, you were doing pretty good. It’s like ROI, right? We all want to get our money’s worth. It’s always useful to know if what we’re doing is working, or if we are wasting our resources and should try a different approach.

This is also true for how we spend our intellectual capital and personal energy. Unfortunately, the metrics aren’t as clean. It’s harder to compare inputs and outputs. The best ratio in my experience is one developed by my dear friend and retired colleague Albert Chew. He always encouraged us to consider the effort spent on ‘Outcomes’ versus ‘Activity.’ If we are expelling a lot of time and effort but not getting the desired results, we are failing. It means we have to redefine the desired outcomes very clearly, in measurable increments, so that our metrics are integral to the definition of “what beautiful looks like.” In that way, we can encourage effort, but reward results.

This has served us well. And looking at how different individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic, I would embellish on the Outcomes vs. Activity ratio. We can also measure the effectiveness of our intellectual expenditure by thinking about how it manifests as a Wisdom Ratio.  I think of this as the advantage of applied and replicable experience vs. mere “smarts” — knowing the right answer for a given problem.

Coming out of the pandemic, we will each bring all of our intelligence to promoting economic recovery. But if we only bring our knowledge of what used to work, the rules we’ve always trusted, and insist that they will work in the emerging world, we will fail. It requires wisdom to take what we’ve learned from lessons past and apply them to solve problems we’ve never encountered. I’ve gone on record as saying that the upcoming generation is the smartest and best educated I’ve ever seen. But the coming months, which we know will be challenging, will prove a litmus test for all of us, even veterans like me. We will need to reshape our tools for the new work ahead. We will need to apply design thinking to solve for unforeseen challenges. We will need wisdom to discern what is mere activity and what is bringing us the desired outcomes.

In the Age of Enlightenment, intellectuals championed progress as the outcome of reason and the applied evidence of the senses. This concept was employed in all fields of human endeavor. Today, we would do well to apply this kind of scrutiny across the various industries and business sectors upon which global economic recovery depends. Our experience still matters — matters more than ever — but it must inform a new calculus for solving for the unknown. That takes wisdom.

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