As you review the past year, it’s easy to get caught in the numbers trap, in which you compare your ending numbers against your goals, your starting numbers, or against last year’s achievements.
You might even do all three. Put all into a spreadsheet and compare them. Calculate the percentage growth or decline, or how close you were to your target.
The numbers themselves are fairly meaningless; what matters is the story we tell about them.
We love to make up stories. And the great thing about numbers is that we can generally find a way to present the numbers so that they support the story we want to tell.
That story is shaped by our beliefs, which are influenced by the dominant forces in our culture — unless we push back.
The dominant forces at play in our culture want us to believe that the only way to measure progress is through quantifiable metrics. In business, we generally look for an increase — more income, a bigger list, more sales. In health, we typically look for a decrease — lower weight, lower blood pressure.
Whether the numbers reflect progress is not absolute. It’s a matter of perspective.
Losing weight can be a sign of progress, unless you lose too much weight, in which case it’s a sign of a problem.
At first glance an increase in income looks like progress in your business, but if your costs increased too, then that income doesn’t result in higher profits. If you’re in a service business that depends on you providing the service, and the increase in income comes at the expense of your health, then you’ve got illusory gain that won’t be sustainable.
The numbers don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do.