High resolution mistakes

The other day, I burned 602.4 calories during my workout.

Of course, I didn’t really. That’s just what the display said. No one can determine exactly (to the tenth of a calorie) what I burned, certainly not this machine.

But the number is prominent and apparently precise. So it appears to be worth paying attention to.

Like a site’s Alexa rank. Or your son’s high school GPA.

Why do so many successful entrepreneurs go right back to building another company after they’ve sold their previous one? One big reason is how easy it is to read the balance on a bank account. Shouldn’t multimillionaires leave bigger tips at restaurants? It’s all about keeping score.

The danger is when you keep score of the wrong thing because it’s easy or precise.

There are literally millions of bloggers that have become so focused on measurable traffic that they end up posting nonsense designed to do nothing but attract a Digg. Look back at a blog like that a month later and it appears to be a series of gimmicks, all designed to maximize a metric that’s almost totally irrelevant to what the blogger set out to do in the first place.

Here are some common metrics (and the thing that might be the real point):

  • Good grades in school (the ability to solve problems in life)
  • Lots of raw traffic to your blog (conversations among prospects who become fans or customers)
  • Burning calories (feeling better and looking good)
  • Clickthrough rate on ads (conversion rate to customers)
  • High salary (long-term happiness)
  • Class rank (actually learning something)
  • Number of stock options (future prospects of your employer)
  • This quarter’s commission (reputation in the industry)
  • Technorati rank (number of RSS subscribers)

Sometimes the unmeasurable is a shield, a way to insulate ourselves from the fear of measurement. But to embrace a number just because it appears to be accurate (though not relevant) is just as bad.

The humidty in NY today, in case you were curious, is supposed to be 64%.