Top of Mind Thursday – February 15, 2024: What a Difference a Decimal Makes

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On Tuesday, ride sharing company Lyft astounded the market when it announced its profit margins were expected to grow by 500 basis points (5%) this year—sending their stock soaring.

There was only one problem: It wasn’t true.

What the earnings report should have said was that margins would grow by 50 basis points, or 1/2 percent. Whoops.

The company issued a correction and apologized for the error. The CEO said the company has a process where “thousands of eyes” review an earning release. And yet no one caught the error.

Most of the time an inadvertent error like this doesn’t cause such a big stir. But then there are those occasions where something small, like an extra zero or the wrong measurement, can be disastrous.

In 1999, NASA lost a craft that traveled for 10 months to Mars, only to crash on landing because navigational commands hadn’t been translated from English to metric measurements. Really big whoops.

None of us is perfect, and mistakes happen. But successful organizations learn from errors like this and put in safeguards so they don’t happen again.

In the case of Lyft, all those eyes reviewing the release either weren’t looking at the right numbers, or they were so close to the situation that they literally didn’t see the difference between 50 and 500.

One thing I’ve learned from decades of writing and editing is that you can’t proofread your own stuff. There isn’t a selfie stuck long enough to give you the perspective to see things from an outsider’s perspective.

But the good news is it’s not difficult to find someone who can fill that role for you—and help avoid the bumpy ride Lyft took this week.

Check out our marketing leadership podcasts and the video trailer for my book, Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters.

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