False proxies

In my day job I am a marketer, so please indulge me for a moment. I promise it will be relevant to writing in the end.

Marketing guru Seth Godin occasionally talks about false proxies, it’s an idea that has stuck with me. A false proxy is something that can be measured which is assumed to rise (or fall) in correlation with your goal, but is not your goal. Proxies are used when your goal cannot be measured. Seth explains it better, so feel free to refer to his article.

I’ll give you an example. My goal is to create interesting and entertaining stories that make my reader’s lives just a little bit happier. When I was first writing my current novel, I tried to write at least 1,000 words a day, to make sure I was making progress. That was the proxy. If I wrote 1,000 words a day, I won.

Notice the problem? I didn’t say they had to be good.

You could argue that I chose the wrong proxy, but that’s not the problem. The problem was that sometimes, I focused too much on the proxy and not enough on the goal beneath it. Writing 1,000 words a day was a useful trick that kept me moving, just as long as I remembered that 1,000 words of crap didn’t really count. I didn’t always remember that.

Don’t focus on your test scores, focus on how much you learn.

Don’t focus on the money you make, focus on how much wealth you build.

Don’t focus on how much work you get done, focus on how good the work is.

Don’t focus on success, focus on happiness.

Remember what your goal really is, and then focus on that. Don’t get distracted by the numbers.

One thought on “False proxies

  1. Challenge failed, and that’s alright – Stilts Out Loud

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