Jack Uldrich
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Do the Math Until It Doesn’t Add Up

Posted in Internet, Marketing, Parenting, Unlearn Strategy


Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is – oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate.” Alice in Wonderland



Question: Which is greater: 1 or 2? What about 100 or 10,000?


The answer is that it depends upon context. As Shel Silverstein reminded his readers in his famous poem “Smart,” context is everything. The poem recounts the story of a young boy who trades one dollar for two quarters because “2 is more than one.” Next, he swaps the two quarters for three dimes because “three is more than two” and then the three dimes for four nickels because “four is more than three.” The poem concludes with the boy trading four nickels for five pennies because, you guessed it, “five is more than four.”


It would nice to believe that Silverstein’s poem is just a cute little ditty about a misguided youth. Unfortunately, many otherwise intelligent adults continue to make comparable mistakes every day and it is a habit worth unlearning.


Consider the recent push among many people and marketers to get Twitter followers. On its face, it would appear to be better to have 10,000 followers than 100 followers. What matters, though, is not really the number of followers one has but rather their willingness to spread your ideas, thoughts, and opinions.


6a00d83451b31569e20120a7683b55970b-320wi  As Seth Godin reminds us, if you begin with 10,000 followers and have a “tweet” that nets .8 new people per generation – which implies your 10,000 followers will forward it to 8,000 new people who will then pass it along to 6,400 — the “tweet” has a relatively short shelf-life and the idea will soon die out. If, however, you have 100 loyal followers and create a noteworthy “tweet” which is passed along to a net 1.5 new people, your idea will first reach 150 new people and eventually it will overtake the “tweet” of the person with 10,000 followers after the thirteen generation. (See graph) If your idea is only slightly better – say it has a 1.7 net pass along rate – the effect is even more dramatic. (See the purple line).


The point is that it is the idea which matters most and not the raw number of followers. Still many people and organizers obsess over the raw number and miss the much more important point of providing excellent and meaningful content. Why? Because, like the boy in the Silverstein poem, everyone knows “10,000 is more than 100.”

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