In the creation story of Eden, one of the very first actions Adam takes is to name the animals he sees.
Imagine the scene–a completely undiscovered ecosystem. The first person to ever exist, walking along. Animals of various shapes and styles of movement catch his eye. And as he notices them, he names them.
Now, move from the world of myths and into the room you’re sitting in. Before the day is over, you’ll probably purchase something, or at least use something you recently paid for. You’ll likely have checked the weather. You may choose to bake something and use a measuring cup in the kitchen. Or, you may head over to your bank account and check on your 401K.
Whether it’s currency, climate, or simply your food, interacting with the world today involves units of measurement. Degrees of heat or cold. Multiples of cents. Ounces of water or flour. Even the seconds in a minute–literally all of these units of measurement were invented at some point or another to name and track movement. In this way, metrics are the way we “name animals.”
And yet, in most conversations today about performance measurement, people are often so caught up in the results that they pay zero attention to the definitions of the metrics they’re using. Why is that?
From my perspective, “naming the animals” — that is, creating ways to measure what matters — is the most critical aspect of measuring performance. My entire job for 6 years has been helping to measure businesses and marketing/media initiatives. Time and time again, I see my clients have inherited the same old tired measures as part of their measurement planning process. And meanwhile, there is a wealth of fascinating measures to choose from that would be so much more helpful.
Concrete example: Take a look at the selection of metrics above, from Google Analytics. How often do you hear about “Count of Days Since Last Session” as way to classify your site users by? What about the difference between a “1-Day Active User,” or a “28-Day Active User”? If you were Jeff Besos, which type of user would you want to see more of on Amazon’s app?
Now look at the metrics below, from the world of investing. When considering how your money is doing, would you care more about “% Change” or “$ Change,” or both? And what the heck is “Gamma” — and does it matter, or not?
Metrics are the less-popular, yet wonderfully nerdy terms for the things in life we really care about (thank you, nerdy predecessors!). I recommend that you find yourself a few metrics, whether in weather, politics, banking, or even pertaining to food, and that you commit to learning what at least three of them actually mean. Getting to know just a few of the metrics that surround you can lend you a powerful lens into your overall picture.
After all, we’re not in a mythical creation story, but we are in a yet-unmapped ecosystem of our lives. The perimeter of the unknown is still larger and more vast than the world of the known. And like Adam, we can use words to name what we see is out there. We can isolate and identify and track–and only by doing that can we move into the new.