I graduated from Stanford in 1998, and spent the next ten years learning how life really works. While at Stanford, I was drawn to organizational sociology but was told by some advisors that it was not practical – so I went to economics and international relations instead. But the entire time I was an economics student – I was fighting with the idea. The assumptions never made sense. They were assumptions about people but they didn’t apply to me, or the people around me. I grew up in a Middle Eastern household in California. Yes, we were rational at times – but a lot of decisions were made out of emotion. So no, we are not always rational beings. And we don’t always make decisions that maximize our utility. Sometimes, we make them because we just have to . Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but the entire process of studying economics was forcing me to suppress my instinctual observations, and instead impose an analysis that I was told was more academic. Most of all – we were always ASSUMING. But I always wondered – why assume when we can just ask? Why assume, when we can actually watch, observe, and uncover.
So coming back to the Stanford 15 years later, I am learning how to stop turning people into data points, and instead turn the data points into stories. Each story has layers. Each story provides hints into what people need. Each story uncovers a path that someone can take in addressing a need for one person, that usually translates into addressing the needs of many. It’s the difference between making people into data points, and then putting data points into a regression, and throwing out the outliers. Instead, we can actually focus on the outliers and the rest of the data, and see what it tells us – and then compare it to the trends in the data and see what the bigger story tells us.