how to measure career success: PageRank versus CheiRank

Myvatn, North Iceland

So a lot of people my age seem to be having existential crisis over their career. Since I enjoy existential crisis (i.e. on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion), I think I’m well positioned to offer a framework for thinking about the situation that we all seem find ourselves in. So … how to measure career success in our 30’s? My approach is inspired by SALSA.

What is SALSA?

As much as I admire Latin dancing, this post is inspired by stochastic approach for link structure analysis.

PageRank: proportion of time spent by a random walk that follows links
CheiRank: proportion of time spent by a random walk that follows links backwards

High PageRank makes you an authority
High CheiRank makes you a hub

In a pure PageRank world, the best way to enhance the authority of people around us is to increase our own authority. If I have low authority and link to a page, the link hardly matters. Hence, self-promotion seems to be the only way to make a difference.

In a SALSA world, random walks follow links backwards as well as forwards. If I’m known to link to useful pages, a new link I add is likely to be considered useful. Being a good hub does not make you show up on searches since search results are still based on authority. The power of a good hub lies in its ability to enhance the authority of people around it. This is what I think we all need to work on in our 30’s.

Does it make sense to define success based on PageRank only?

In our 20’s, I think PageRank is THE relevant metric. You want to be known for an area of expertise and you want other people to come to you for help. If we want to make a difference, we need people to come to us with important problems that we can help them solve. This is pretty obvious in consulting which is why consultants spend tonnes of time presenting at industry conferences. This is also important within a company if we want people to come to us with unique challenges.

In our 30’s, we need to continue to improve our PageRank. However, unless you want to be the foremost expert on a very specific topic, there is a limit to how much you can improve. Hence, it’s important to shift our focus to another metric (i.e. make a difference in another way).

How to improve CheiRank?

Whereas we can enhance PageRank by helping people, enhancing CheiRank means getting people to help each other. I’m sure we all do this reactively. If a friend asks me about something that another friend is familiar with, I will refer person A to person B. What I’m working on is doing this proactively.

Being proactive about PageRank comes pretty naturally to me. I’ve sent lots of emails telling people that I’d like to help them with such and such project. What does it mean to be proactive about CheiRank? I think it means building a diverse network which increases the likelihood that I can find a person B for every person A. If I’m successful at improving my CheiRank, people will come to me with important problems even if they know that I cannot solve this particular problem because chances are I know someone who can.

Now that I know what I need to do, just gotta figure out how to do it!

P.S. Optimizing PageRank and CheiRank is also less fragile than focusing on PageRank only. Whereas most of us can probably only have high PageRank on one or two topics, it’s possible to have high CheiRank on a number of topics. You can work hard to become the foremost expert on a very specific topic. This topic might become the next big thing. Or this topic might become completely irrelevant. Then we need to become an expert in a new topic. A natural choice would be a topic that we already have high CheiRank on.

P.P.S. Eventually, I think internet search will be a lot like search before internet, except much faster. If I want to know something about X, internet search will give me links from my friend who is most knowledgeable about X. But this friend doesn’t need to actually send me the links (i.e. it’s implicit in everything the friend has linked to in the past). Internet search will also tell me who this friend is so that I can follow up with questions. Because search always leads to more questions!

P.P.P.S. Can someone tell me why CheiRank is named CheiRank? I’m aware of Larry Page and Navneet Panda. Who is this Chei guy?

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