Keeping track of the right things

It begins at the primary school level math class. The chapter in our textbook that teaches us what are countable and noncountable things. We could count the number of apples using fingers but, we couldn’t calculate the amount of water using our fingers. Eventually, we get attracted to the ease of measuring concrete things just because it’s easy. That’s how it starts – our obsession with measuring things just because it’s convenient.

We carry forward this tendency to the rest of our adult life only to regret later, in our death beds that we were chasing the wrong things. Right from the moment we learn to count things using our fingers as a child to the moment we are terminally sick and are in nursing homes feeling lonely and scared waiting for death, we are obsessed about this dopamine-generated act of counting and keeping track of all the wrong things, only because it’s easy.

What you measure usually gets paid attention to, and what you pay attention to, usually gets better.

Numbers supercharge measurement, because numbers are easy to compare.

Numbers make it difficult to hide.

And hence the problem.

What does it mean to ‘win’? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?

Is the most important work always the most popular? Does widespread acceptance translate into significant impact? Or even significant sales? Is the bestseller list also the bestbook list?

Who are these reviews from? Are they based on expectations (a marketing function) or are they based on the change you were trying to make? It turns out that great books and great movies get more than their fair share of lousy reviews–because popular items attract more users, and those users might not be people you were seeking to please.

Or consider graduation rates. The easiest way to make them go up is to lower standards. Or to get troublesome students to transfer to other institutions or even to get them arrested. When we lose track of what’s important in our rush to keep track of what’s measurable, we fail.

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.”

How often do we keep track of the amount of kindness, care, love, generosity, humility, courage, and honesty we display? Not very often, I am sure. Because they are not countable. Because we haven’t developed a machine yet that enables us to measure these things with as much ease as we measure the amount of money we have in our bank accounts, the number of cars/houses we own, the number of keywords on our resume/CV, the number of followers we have, and the number of ‘likes’ we get on our pics.

The right numbers matter. When you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

Such is the psychology of numbers. Quantification is an exciting process that convinces us to make that one last try at the slot machine, despite losing at all the previous attempts. The hormone, dopamine that is released as a result of seeing the numbers go higher is addictive and we will do anything to improve the numbers to maintain that feeling.

We must strive to keep track of the right experiences – the things that make us feel happy, loved, and confident. Since there’s no device available in the market to measure these, we must intentionally keep a track of it.

Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.