because writing is clarifying

because writing is clarifying

Subbu Allamaraju’s Journal

Inputs and Outputs

One of the best books I read last year was Colin Bryar and Bill Carr’s Working Backwards. Of all the chapters in this book, Chapter 6 on “Metrics” was the most influential for me. It clarifies the difference between inputs and outputs. Gaining weight is an output. Eating healthy and staying active are inputs. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling reminded me of this book as the verdict was just an output, culminating years of strategy, planning, and execution of certain controllable inputs.

Outputs make you emotional. You get upset when you gain weight. You feel happy when the scale shows a smaller number. You get upset when the stock market is down, and you suddenly seem less wealthy. But you feel glad when the market goes up, even though you know you did nothing to influence the stock market.

Inputs, on the other hand, take strategy and are actionable. Staying active and eating healthy are controllable inputs. These two inputs may or may not get you to lose weight, but at least those are two commonly used inputs you can control to influence the outcome. If those inputs don’t produce the outcome you want, then you have to find other inputs or at least get an appreciation of your uniqueness. Similarly, being frugal and diversifying your investments are two controllable inputs you can control to build wealth.

Along the same lines, we all are upset now since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson case last week. Unfortunately, as legitimate as our feelings are, anger and frustration are unlikely to reverse last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

This ruling is the output of a complex legal and political system with a few controllable inputs that some people understood well and systematically manipulated over the years. Democrats mistakenly continue to focus on just one controllable input, which is to vote. President Obama made the same appeal last week, asking that we’ve got to elect officials committed to doing the same. But there are more inputs to control, and it takes a strategy and much more patient planning and execution to manipulate the inputs. Republicans understand this, but democrats continue to preach simplistic inputs. We’re less likely to influence the future if we fail to understand the system producing the output and learn about all potential controllable inputs.

In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson, the controllable inputs the right used includes gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, injecting favorable county and state electoral officers and policies, and specific cases to bring to the Supreme Court when the timing is right. The right has been shaping these for years, with several intermediate phases like Obama failing to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in the final year of his presidency, Trump becoming the President, and a chance for him to appoint three justices. All of these finally culminated in a decision that took away the right to abortion, which was so far protected by the rights of privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment.

To change a system, we need to understand how it works and how to control it. If we don’t understand the system’s behavior and expect outputs we like to magically manifest, we will get nothing but disappointments. Outputs drive angst and emotions. But inputs need a strategy and patience.

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