Spend a couple moments and fill in the blank: I want to become a better ________.
Did you fill it something like employee, leader, or something related to your work? Maybe as I recently wrote, a thought leader? Or did you say something like “parent”, “spouse”, “friend”, or something a bit more personal?
There’s the saying “you are what you eat.” There’s truth to it. In our Information Age, the phrase “the things that get measured, get done” is both powerful, and scary. Here are a few examples:
- We have the number friends, followers, or connections on social media, so we are drawn to track our worth against that.
- We use Screen Time or another app to minimize screen time, instead of maximize joy time.
- We measure our worth by our salary, so we double-down on that.
Measuring the easy thing, not the right thing
When adventurous Europeans set sail westward and had no clue where they were going or if they were going to fall off the edge of the world (the Europeans believed in a flat earth then), cartography (map-making) was a critical key. They used the known stars to help guide them. They used other indicators (wind, direction, sun, and math) to help create maps so they know roughly where they were. As error-prone as their process was, they still had a terrific way of tracking where they were headed and how to get back home (usually). Their lives depended on measuring the right thing.
In our modern age, we often pick a metric that’s easy to calculate, readily available, or something that’s free. For example, why is it so hard to know how many customers truly find value in the product you deliver? Because it’s hard work. It’s not easy. It’s way easier to measure the number of logins, the number of active days (DAU or MAU, for example). It’s a proxy. But we use proxies all the time and everywhere.
Transfixed by metrics
With measuring so many things under the sun, our minds are transfixed to metrics. They help us, they guide us. What time is it? Use a clock. When should I go to sleep? A clock helps me know what time it is so I don’t stay up till 3am! Metrics — loosely defined in this example — show me how many cups of flour, how much salt, water, and yeast to make bread. Without it, I’m sure I would have never improved my dough from when I first tried it as a five year old.
Metrics are key. But metrics are a tool, not a savior. Becoming saturated in metrics enables forgetting the surrounding beauty. Spring recently pushed winter aside. Birds are out, plants are popping up through the ground, and the temperatures rise. Focusing only on certain metrics, while helpful to my goal, may also prevent me from smelling blooming flowers. In short, I can get so wrapped up in metrics that I miss all that is happening around me. Won’t you stop and smell the roses with me?
We may not realize following certain metrics are to our detriment. Relentlessly tracking and improving the number of followers or friends on social media may help a business, but it ruins your soul. Metric tracking is a habit creator. When we measure something, we change our focus, which changes our mindset, which changes our lifestyle and beliefs. Are these the habits you want to form?
Are you excited by that? If you continue to measure for the next thirty years by the ways you’re currently measuring yourself, will that finally give you the fulfillment you’ve always wanted or will you find yourself still wanting? Measure carefully.