The Shrine of Big Numbers: Can’t we just honor creation and effort?

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I was looking at my podcast yesterday afternoon. For context, I started that podcast for a few reasons. One is that this post of mine always resonated with me about how life changes from, say, 28 to 35. Two was that I didn’t have a lot of work in fall 2019, and I needed ways to fill time. Three was that I figured it could be interesting and network-y. And four was like, basically, boredom. But when I started it, I was still doing some day-drinking, and I actually missed a few tapings because I was, well, unwell at 3pm or 4pm when they were scheduled. I regret this, because just yesterday I talked to some guy I had previously cancelled on, and we had a good conversation — nay, a great conversation — on all manner of stuff.

OK, so yesterday I’m looking at the “numbers,” and I have 1,600 plays/downloads across 27 or so episodes. That’s about 60 people per episode. It’s not a lot of people by any stretch. CNN, which admittedly more people know than little old me, just launched a coronavirus updates podcast and it had 1M downloads/plays in the first week. I ain’t anywhere near that.

But then I got to wondering — I do this thing on my couch, in gym shorts, or at co-working spaces, often also in gym shorts. It’s random life conversations. For 1,600 people (give or take) to listen to some of those, I feel good about that. It’s a nice accomplishment, and it doesn’t take me a lot of time or money. I probably will never monetize this thing, but it’s a good thing in my life, right? I’m creating something and some are consuming it. Maybe 60 per.

But if I ever posted about this broadly, I would probably get tons of LinkedIn DMs about needing to “up my game” and “get my numbers up” and “blitz-scale.”

So I then wonder: Why does the number need to be big?

Why can’t we just celebrate the idea of creation and new initiatives, even if they don’t scale rapidly or make billions of dollars?

I know the answer, of course: we reside in a “Spreadsheet Mentality” culture with very superficial, high-numbers-driven measures of success. That’s why.

I moved to Texas for a gig in 2014. Eventually got #piped from that gig, but have remained in the area for close to six years. At that gig, it was “The Shrine of Big Numbers” to the 18th degree. We could post something on Instagram. It was a travel-type company, so we had some beautiful photos. So we post this beach in the South Pacific and it has 27,000 impressions, let’s say. The CMO would go nuts, loving it. “Put that on a slide for the CEO.” Literally no one knew what it meant. Was it tied to customers? Brand awareness? Market share? Leads? No one knew what the hell was happening. But 27,000 sounded big, so it was splashed on slide decks galore.

I ended up hating that job and was looking to leave, but they fired me before I could. Sometimes that’s the dance.

This is just a short post to make this point: sometimes it’s OK to create a small thing, or a thing that serves a small purpose and doesn’t “hyper-scale.” Not everyone needs to be Amazon, or Joe Rogan, or whatever. Some people just create little things and a few people find them and you know what? That’s OK — and we should be acknowledging those people for being brave enough to create something out in that universe, chaotic as it may be.

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