Input vs. Output

Imagine a big, strange Dr. Seussian machine. You feed it groceries, and it spits out gold bars or useless goop. You don’t know how the machine works, if it will produce, or when the gold or goop will arrive. All you control is what you feed the machine. Any goal is like this: You own the input to influence the output.

We can measure both:

  • Input Metrics: Levers that you control, like the number of days spent in the gym, how many words you write, or the volume of sales calls you make.
  • Output Metrics: Desired results, which you don’t control. Outputs are things like weight lost, stories published, or revenue earned.

Let’s say you own this temperamental Gold-or-Goo machine, and your mustache-twirling boss tells you he needs 100 gold bars by quarter’s end.

“Number of gold bars produced” is your output metric, but you can’t control if, when, or how the machine will produce gold bars. Since it’s not actionable, “100 gold bars by quarter’s end” isn’t a useful standalone metric.

You reflect on the machine’s past behavior and notice trends. For instance, the machine produced more goo after you fed it dark chocolate and more gold after feeding it carrots. There’s not a direct correlation (i.e., one carrot ≠ one gold bar), but there’s a general pattern of carrots yielding gold. An input metric could be the “number of carrots fed.”

To achieve your boss’s goal, focus on the inputs (number of carrots fed) to influence the outputs (number of gold bars produced).

When setting fiction writing goals this year, I focused on two inputs—the number of stories written and the number of submissions sent to relevant publications—to influence my output: the number of stories published.

Focus on the inputs to influence the output.