Success – and Measuring Success

How do you measure how much a loved one loves you?

Maybe by the flowers they send. Or the attention they pay to you. Or the look in their eyes when they talk to you, or their curiosity about what you’re doing lately.

You could, in fact, measure each one of those things. Some are easy, like flowers. Others, like curiosity, need decomposing into second-level indicators – how many questions they ask you, the operative pronoun in those questions. The point is, you could do it.

But would you?

Would you ever mistake the measure itself—roses, say—for the love they purport to measure? Of course not. It seems silly to equate the two; the poor sucker who does so is sadly self-deluded and likely unlucky in love.

Roses may be the measure of love–but are not love itself.

Now switch to business. How do you measure success in business? How about by the profits you make? After all, if you create great products that meet real needs in the marketplace and add real value in a customer-delighting manner—well, you’ll get rewarded for it, in the form of profits.

Profits are to business what roses are to love–measures.

So, would you ever mistake the measure—profits—for the success they purport to measure? Do profits really equal success?

Unlike love-and-roses, all too often our answer is ‘yes.’ Yes, we say, the whole point of business is to make profits. Success consists of making money. It seems silly, we say, to differentiate between the two–the poor sucker who does so is sadly self-deluded and likely to get fleeced by sharper competitors.

In amore, we know the difference between love itself and pale trailing indicators of its recent presence. But in business, we confuse the yardstick with length itself; we’ve lost the ability to distinguish maps from reality.

When did profit move from being a measure of success, to being iconized as success itself?

Thinking that the point of business is to make money is like thinking the point of living is to eat. Profit is a byproduct of doing great business—an indicator. Not a goal.

If all you focus on is roses, you’ll at least have flowers at the end of the day; but you’ll fail at love. In business, if all you focus on is profits, you won’t even get that. Because, simply, we don’t trust people who are only in it for the money.

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