Spreading ideas and vanity metrics

Last week a guy I’ve never heard of on a blog I’ve never seen posted my Generosity Experiment video on his blog, generating a nice flurry of tweets from a bunch of folks.

My first reaction should have been: “Great!”

My first reaction actually was: “Great, but I wish he’d written the post with a link to my blog / Twitter handle, or a link to the video on TED.com to make it easier for people to find me.”

And so the question I must ask myself, again, is, “What business am I in here?” knowing full well that of course I’m in the spreading ideas business, which means that having additional blog subscribers and Twitter followers is gratifying but it’s just a means to an end.

One of my favorite concepts from the Eric Ries’ Lean Startup is the notion of vanity metrics.  These are numbers that startups parade around to impress their customers, their  venture investors, or (worst) themselves.  They are numbers that tell you almost nothing about whether the business is actually succeeding.  User growth or topline revenue numbers are great candidates for vanity metrics – as opposed to metrics like utilization rate of your fixed assets; total sales generated by your median salesperson versus a breakeven number; or number of months to cashflow positive for each new site that you open.

If you’re in the spreading ideas business then what you want to measure is how far, well, quickly, and to whom your ideas are spreading.  Seems tautological until you start thinking about, say, whether and why one might want to publish a book.  Being “published” used to be a clear divider between those could / could not spread ideas, but that dividing line is becoming a lot more permeable.  Yes, it still matters a lot today, but that’s fading fast.

If you take this notion seriously you can’t help but wonder what other vanity metrics are going to be outdated 10 years from now.  Serious candidates could include: your job title, the school you went to, working for a “blue chip” company, the average SAT score at your kid’s high school.

And core metrics that I bet are going to matter more and more: speed of integrating new information; engagement in self-directed learning; willingness to go to bat for things that matter; ability to be remarkable in situations that seem unremarkable; connecting with and delighting customers; putting your whole self into everything you create; working through and with uncertainty; adaptability; and self-knowledge.

3 thoughts on “Spreading ideas and vanity metrics

  1. I think you’re spot on, Sasha. The difficulty lies in measuring measuring those new metrics. Once they’re quantifiable, they’ll take off like wildfire.

    Thanks for the thoughts worth thinking about!


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