Our taste for vanity metrics starts early. Take schools, in which most students receive grades. Does an “A” reflect the promise of a student’s future performance or actually show who's better at studying? On its own, doesn’t a “B” just signal “work harder” rather than “work smarter?”
Grades can easily slip into vanity metric territory, prizing comparison over advancement, and ego over evolution. They can become a tool for teachers to contrast students or for school boards to evaluate schools, rather than for students to improve. It’s easy to fall prey to the “A.”
Looker founder and CTO Lloyd Tabb sees the same phenomenon in tech. The metrics that are elevated — from daily active users to revenue growth — effectively compare companies, but don’t necessarily help them run better. In fact, these measurements often slant toward what investors want to measure, showing if a company is valuable, not how it can create more value.
It turns out, most of us are still hung up on getting that “A.” After three decades leading data teams at companies like LiveOps, Netscape, and ReadyForce, Tabb’s biggest learning isn’t what you would expect — or want to hear: You’re measuring the wrong metrics. We all are.