9/23/21: Staying focused on the right metric for success

Sent 9/23/21


  • We spoke with the former head of performance for the PGA, David Donatucci, about how to approach strength training efficiently and productively (Fueling the Pursuit)

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about not getting stuck on the wrong metric for success. 

The Idea

Two short anecdotes from the past week. Last week I was the emcee for a start-up pitch contest called Falling Walls. It was my second year doing it. Teams of Japanese researchers pitch their science-based startups in an effort to win a place at the final competition, which takes place in Germany. 

Last year we had outside support, used professional webinar technology, had a team dedicated to each role, and all I had to do was read my script and navigate the evening. It went really smoothly.

This year it was led by a different team, with no outside support, stricter covid protocols, and limited opportunity to prep. I showed up ready to do my script but it quickly became clear I'd have to navigate the presentation slides, timing the presenters, spotlighting the speakers, and more. 

Most of all, it became quickly apparent that this year's competition was not going to live up to last year's in terms of presentation and execution. Because it wasn't smooth, it felt like we were failing from the get-go. That said, we conducted the entire competition, chose a winner, and got the job done.

Story #2: A friend's son--I'll call him Sonny since I didn't ask if I can write about him--ran in the Woodbridge Invitational last weekend and was in the Sweepstakes race, running against all the top runners, including Newbury Park High School. For those who don't follow high school running, Woodbridge is a fast course and Newbury Park is a juggernaut of a team. 

Sonny is a good runner, and wants to be the great. But he's relatively new to the sport and doesn't have the experience or base of training that some of the other runners do. Nobody knew how fast he'd be able to run, and it was his first time in a field as fast and experienced as this one.

Newbury Park had four runners go under 14 minutes for 3 miles (incredible!) and their average team time was actually sub-14. Sonny ran a conservative race, stayed in the pack for two miles, and finished really strong for a big personal best. He wasn't close to the leaders, but he finished much better than most people expected.

On the one hand, he lost to (I believe) every scorer on Newbury Park, and finished quite far from the leaders. On the other, he executed his race plan perfectly and ran a big personal best.

These two situations share one key quality. Each presented an opportunity to focus on the wrong metric and make success feel like failure. Just because a metric affects how you feel--worse than last year, far from the leaders--doesn't mean it's worth emphasizing when evaluating your performance.

The System

Know what your core metric for measuring success is before you enter a race, a project, or any challenging situation. There are a million ways to measure ourselves, but one or two are always the most important. You can't allow secondary metrics to affect the goals you set or whether you were successful achieving them.

If your goal is to have a breakthrough race, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. Your measure of success--and your plan to achieve it--should de-emphasize what others are doing. As should your post-race evaluation.

If your goal is to choose a winner in a competition, then success should be evaluated on whether you did that fairly and successfully. Not whether it went as smoothly as the prior year or whether each step went perfectly. 

Secondary metrics are useful for identifying areas to improve. Don't let them make you feel like a failure when you've achieved your primary goal.

The Question

What is the one metric you want to be judged on? How much time are you spending on less important measures?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

“Stay centered on what matters by keeping what matters at the center.”
- Richie Norton



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