Numbers Don’t Drive Businesses, People Do

Business is a numbers game: That’s what I would have told you when I started my first business over 25 years ago. As a degreed engineer whose father was a college professor, I was exposed to many mathematical concepts and analytical approaches. I thought all you had to do in business was gather the data, apply the math, and voila! – there was the answer.

After 25 years of running companies, I will tell you that numbers are mostly just the result of a bunch of little actions people take every day in your company. Business is about people. Improving a business is accomplished not by looking at numbers but by changing the behavior of people. And that is very hard. My wife moved the drawer where we keep the utensils in our kitchen over a year ago, and I still sometimes reach in the wrong drawer.

I found this article from Matt Blumberg to be a great explanation of how knowing the numbers is a small part of running a business, just like reading a map (or using a GPS) is a small part of driving a car: You Don’t Know How to Drive a Car Because You Know How to Read a Map

Being “Master of the Spreadsheet” has its merits, he says, but: “It is not the same as actually getting yourself from Point A to Point B. Driving a car in and of itself is a skill that requires a lot of learning and practice. And it certainly doesn’t forecast traffic or road hazards that require a last minute detour. Being right about what roads to take is a lot less important than actually getting yourself to the destination safely and in a timely manner.  The value of having experienced executives operating a business is those things – the actual driving of the car.  The knowing of the customers or the employees.  The skill of managing change and emotions.”



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