Perfect 10

I’m not a big fan of 10-point scales. In fact, I don’t even really like 5-point scales for things. But mostly that’s because I think people don’t use them well.

For instance, ask someone how they feel about something on a scale of 1 to 10. Assuming they don’t absolutely hate it, they’ll generally pick somewhere between 5 and 8, and most likely either 6 or 7. No one ever picks 3.

Let’s say they pick 7. If you ask them, “what would have to improve to make it an 8? What would have to be worse to make it a 6?” they won’t have answers.

People are good at comparing two things, but they’re not great at evaluating one thing in a vacuum. Most “evaluation scales” should just be 1-3. You hate it, you love it, or “eh.”

People are good at comparing two things, though. If I were to give you two examples of something, even if they were pretty similar, you could probably decided which you prefer. Most people do this every day, for really minor differences in impact. Think about the million different ways people drink some variety of “hot caffeine,” even though that’s really all it is, and you get what I’m talking about.

The upshot is that in order to really have a meaningful 10-point scale of something, you’d need ten different examples of that thing. Then you could rank them in order from best to worst. Once you’d done that, you could number the examples and now you’d have a way to evaluate new examples by ranking them against the existing set.

When you ask someone to rank something from 1-10 and you don’t both share a calibrated scale like that, it’s sort of like asking someone “how many hogsheads does it take to fill a swimming pool?” Most people don’t have any idea what a hogshead even is (though the answer is interesting!), and so they’d be guessing at best. So when you ask someone to rank a product or idea on that scale, what you’re really getting is a filtered version of their current mood, guesswork, and other factors making the data not very helpful.

Define your terms! Create and calibrate a scale when asking others – and even for yourself, that can help you think more clearly. Look around at your current situation with regards to work, your home, anything about your life. Rank it from 1-10. But then think about what would have to change for your ranking to go one step higher or one step lower. What does each step actually look like, distinct from the others? How can you get there?

Those marginal improvements can make a world of difference, and give you an actionable way to get to that perfect 10.

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