You Are What You Measure

Reading Callie’s thoughts at Steven Pressfield’s blog a while back raised some marketing questions in my head.

photo by Miguel Saavedra are you more interested in:

  • number of books sold or number of new fans?
  • number of words written or percentage of days you write something rather than nothing?
  • page views for your blog, or posts you’re proud of?

It’s good business to keep track of statistics.

It’s human nature to pay more attention to what’s easy to count instead of what’s hard to count.

It’s not always obvious that what matters to your business (you know, selling books as your own publisher?) is hard to count.

It’s a scientific likelihood that even when what you count is a valid indicator of progress, you’ll begin gaming yourself and the statistics in order to boost a number. (It’s called Campbell’s Law.)

If your daily writing goal is X thousand words, and you’re pondering sentence structure, will you choose the succinct or the, er, expressive? Maybe you’ll keep yourself honest. It can be done.

But if you’re counting words, that creeps into the decision, a decision where it doesn’t belong. The number of words you use to say something is immaterial (beyond the general rule to omit needless words.)

What matters is the quality of the words. Hard to measure.

If you count books sold rather than solid human connections, you’ll pollute your career as a self-publishing author. Your brain is wired to promote what you’re counting (books sold) even at the expense of something you know intuitively is more important to long-term success: human connections, real genuine fans.

Folks have been obsessing about web traffic since five minutes after they discovered the internet. The only time web traffic matters as an indicator of success is if you live exclusively by online sales of a commodity where you can draw a firm correlation between number of visitors and number of sales.

How many people read your brilliant post doesn’t matter.

How many people care about it, ruminate on it, ask you questions or go do something about it — that matters.

You are what you measure.

Measure what matters.

9 thoughts on “You Are What You Measure

  1. Another 500 Page Views on my blog – feels good.

    Someone buys a book – feels good plus I make enough money for a cup of coffee.

    Someone reads my blog and sends an email to thank me for helping them write better, steer clear of a scam, or learn something new and valuable – priceless.

    Marketing is all about building relationships and successful selling is all about being relationship-worthy. Statistics are good ego fodder but real success is often difficult to quantify. Publishing is about selling books but it’s also about sharing ideas with others. It was suggested to me once that there’s only one grand theme in literature—the search for meaning. Why should publishing be any different?

  2. I do give myself a word count goal, but don’t even look at the numbers until the day is done. I keep the goal low enough that I usually exceed it to reduce the pressure to simply add words.

    Often people, that grand class of creatures writers manage to belong to, albeit tenuously at times, set goals or make plans and then identify with them. Failing brings depression. So I never plan. My goals and ideas of what I want to do are intentions. Only that. I honestly intend to work as hard as I can to produce x thousand words on my story today. I might work out. It is what I work toward. There is no real success or failure in that kind of measurement. I only use it because I often want to have an idea of how it will likely take me to complete a project. I’ve started this story and should finish it next week and THEN I can think more about the nagging plot line festering in the back of my head.

  3. Great insight, as usual, Joel. It’s interesting in a big corporation where they feel a need to measure each individual so they can decide how much more they should pay one person over the other, they don’t seem to measure how many quality relationships one has. And in a technical company or field, it seems like ‘technical’ is all that matters. They seem to have a superior complex. I’m beginning to dislike that word, ‘technical’. To me, people and their behavior is the most complex subject there is.

  4. Rex, you are so right. Having been out of IT almost as long as I was in it, I can say that learning to deal with technology is easier than dealing with people. đŸ™‚ Ultimately, how do you measure the worth of your life? I’m closer to answering that. I can say the answer is very different now than in decades past. Like Dave Bricker said above, the numbers are an ego-booster. However, the day the numbers are the goal is the day your writing becomes inseparable from your marketing. A sad day indeed. Lol!

  5. Indeed. Superficialities only provide temporary momentum.

    As Jonathan Fields writes in Uncertainty it’s when we’re burning inside that we provide our own fuel, regardless of the uncertainty of external forces.

  6. Boy howdy, Ed, that’s a balancing act. I call it FSFing, for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s concept of keeping two opposing ideas in our head at once.

    My daily writing routine is a 15-minute commitment: I will be at my writing desk, door closed, doing something to move my writing forward.

    That’s it. If I do my 15, I’m free.

    But I also know that if I put 1,400 words together every day, I’ll have this book finished and ready for editing on the date I hope for.

    Balancing an empirical with an abstract: it’s what works for me, but so many folks find it such a challenge I always hesitate to suggest it.

  7. The metrics in most big companies are mangled beyond value. My last job, I worked for a very people-oriented company, under the best manager I’ve ever worked for.

    And yet, the annual review was “here’s where you need to become ‘well rounded’ and improve, and here’s the percentage of goals you hit and therefore the dollars and cents of your raise.”

    All numbers. Sure, appreciation for special effort, but what was officially recorded was always the statistics for a spreadsheet.

    I don’t miss it.

  8. Sparks a connection in my head: Rolf Potts of Vagabonding suggests that instead of measuring wealth in money, we should measure it in percentage of time spent doing what we choose instead of what we’re obligated to.

    The instant I heard that, something cracked open in my head. Ever since, I’ve realized that I am rich beyond belief, and I have slowly eliminated virtually all the unwanted obligations from my life. There are precious few things I do because I have to, whether I want to or not.

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