The magic of big numbers and small changes

Winter is a perfect time for reading up on all sorts of things. Which in turn is the perfect excuse for curling up on the sofa and not moving an inch for the next three hours. It’s the perfect pastime:

A Cat's Day Off, by A. Davey (who has, incidentally, some other great pictures on Flickr)

A Cat’s Day Off, by A. Davey (Click to view this and more of his pictures on Flickr)

Just a couple of days ago, I ran into a curious thing about numbers. In this case, numbers that reflect the growth of the global human population.

Knowledge… and the thing about population numbers

Far back in time, numbers are partly (or even mostly) based on educated guesses. It’s estimated that about 2000 years ago, the total population on earth of homo sapiens (or at least the species that is assumed, by individuals of that same species, to be able to think), is estimated to have been somewhere around 300 million. Rome hit the 1 million mark around that time.

The table contains a set of years for which the population was calculated and/or estimated (like I said, the further back you go, the more guesswork this involves). It also contains the number of births per 1000 individuals. The fourth column contains the number of births between two consecutive benchmarks.

As intriguing as the table (which I found in Gurteen’s Knowledge Newsletter) was, I thought it was lacking something. So I added two more columns, figuring:

  1. If you have the years and the population size (more or less), you can calculate how many years there are between every two consecutive benchmarks.
  2. Once you have that, you could even use the number of births between benchmarks and the number of years between benchmarks to come up with…

The number of births per year. And when you see those numbers, you realize two sets of numbers are developing in opposite directions.

Population_Growth

Population growth. Black text from David Gurteen’s Knowledge Newsletter; red columns added by me. Click to enlarge.

More or less

  • The number of births per 1000 humans per year has gone down in no uncertain way. Actually, I’m guessing it’s even more extreme than it looks, because death rates among young children were very high for a very long time (and among mothers).
  • Meanwhile, the absolute number of births per year has gone up as steadily. There are now enough representatives of the human species that not all need to have children at all to sustain the species as a whole – at this rate, only half of all humans will need to reproduce on a moderate scale to keep the population growing.

So… what are the odds of 7 billion human beings having no impact on their environment? (Nope, I’m not adding examples.) On the other hand: if 1 million people decide to rip their lawns out and putting in plants that provide shade and cool spots in the garden instead of trying to keep all those lawns green (and the air conditioning roaring) in another sweltering summer,* that will have an impact, too.

* Not summer around here. We tend to get wet no matter the season. I looked it up last autumn and my hunch was right: we’re in the perfect region to get seriously soaked (as confirmed by 10 year average rainfall stats). I’m not going to risk growing grapes 🙂

 

Advertisements

The contented gardener

When I first started blogging, I decided not to blog about me. For more than a year, that worked really well. But then something happened. And it changed everything.

Winter garden

Photos from the garden yesterday afternoon. Call this winter? At ankel’s height there’s still lots to see. Bulbs reaching up. A cold snap with a drizzle of snow caused stubborn flowers to droop.

Over a year ago I got a new job. In content management. A great opportunity to turn all my talk about content, social media, and the like, into my daily job.

But somehow, spending hours at work fiddling with texts doesn’t motivate one to sit down at night and do the same thing all over again. Writing about content wasn’t the only problem. It was the editing, finding the right picture, and so on.

And even ‘writing about content’ was turning into a problem. Because it was ‘work’. I don’t mind work, I just don’t need to do one thing anywhere near 24/7. I craved variety. I’ve always loved doing a lot of different things at (nearly) the same time. (I know it’s getting out of hand whenever there are three different books by my bedside and another (two or three) in the living room.)

Content to garden

Then a new topic to blog about crossed my path. My garden. Actually it wasn’t that much of a garden: it was what was left after the houses had been built. After removing most of that one plant species I later learned is called lady’s thumb, because it grew nearly two feet tall all over the place, I let the other stuff grow to find out what kind of weed it was:

  • nice (like the flowery ones)
  • educational (stinging nettles – our son never had accidents with them at home)
  • slightly annoying (dandelions, but making up for it by looking great)
  • a real pain – unless you find a use for it (horsetail)

I’d added some plants but never sat down to decide which bigger plants might really add structure to our garden. It almost felt impossible to put big plants into a small garden. Partially because it would mean ripping out weeds that had grown on me. Sort of. Some of them. Partially because, well, it’s a small garden. Big plants were never going to fit, right?

Garden changes

But here I am after trying stuff in my garden for a whole growing season. I put in bigger plants and I keep seeing patches where more plants would fit quite snugly. I also started blogging about my garden.

Looking back at some pictures I took a few years ago I noticed one thing. A lot of small plants have disappeared. Having bigger plants shade the soil and soaking up nutrients and water has probably meant that the smaller ‘pioneer’ plants have left – after depositing their seeds in case a big shrub or a treelet is uprooted by a storm.

I’ve been able to retain a red clover, so hopefully it will attract bees and the like next spring. The gaps left by the pioneer plants are now begging for inhabitants -they are an open invitation for our neighbors’ cat to crap right in that spot (they don’t have a garden. Just a place to sit outside. And a cat with toilet issues). That’s one thing about some of the herbs: they die back when it gets cold and then the cats move in. Plants with woody stems are better.

Looking forward to spring. Happy New Year!

Content: relevance before cats

Christmas or end-of-the year musings… In the past year I’ve spent a lot of my time managing content for a website and making sure sufficient amounts of content get published. Over the year, I developed my own approach to that content. What happened?Christmas (warm filter)

As I got more familiar with the visitors of ‘my’ website I started to get a feel for the kind of content they consider worth their time. As it happens, the website aims to serve small and medium-sized businesses. A quick scan showed me that we were also serving a number of professionals in our own line of business (and that’s fine).

I’ve heard several times over the past five or so years the statement that content needs to be (more) attractive or even ‘sexy’. However the few times anyone got the chance to publish content considered attractive, that content somehow failed to live up to expectations. Newsletters were opened by far fewer readers.

Why wasn’t the attractive content working for us?

The persons sharing content published content they thought was interesting. However, they were not entrepreneurs. As a result, they were showing cute kittens to, in some cases, people with a cat allergy.

It’s not that entrepreneurs have no fun. It’s not that they don’t like cats. It’s just that they don’t need them in their business mailbox (unless they’re in the feline business).

Now, personally I dislike talking about buyer personas because I’ve come across way too many articles about the topic. People talking about buyer personas seem to indicate that you’re supposed to have descriptions of your different types of customers hanging on every wall. Unfortunately I studied art history a long time ago and my association (if any) is with ancient Christian icons. I do not intend to kneel before the image of my prospects. I’m hoping the ‘buyer persona’ buzz will blow over.

However you do need to take into consideration what an entrepreneur’s life and even a single day might look like. If business is good, they’re working for their customers. If business is not so good, they’re visiting potential customers. Either that or they’ll soon be out of business altogether.

So exactly how much time are entrepreneurs going to spend reading content unless it promises a return on the investment of their time?

That is why the title of this post is: relevance before cats. Because publishing horrible but relevant pieces of content (editing them when possible for greater readability) has proved itself over and over again. Making relevant content more attractive to your intended audience… now there’s an approach that is more likely to succeed.

This video from Mark Schaefer offers some useful insights into the measurement of your (PR/social media) activities. When small change starts to count in a business, you need to show results – either to your customer or your manager!

One last thing: I added a warm filter to the image above. These are the Photoshop settings:Christmas (warm filter settings)

Below is the original photo. We’ve been saving a lot of electricity in our house using LED and the like. The human eye gets used the difference after a while. But the difference does show itself in photos. Which version do you like best?

Merry Christmas!Christmas 2014