Seth Godin has a great post regarding the fact that nearly everything is benchmarked these days. From vehicle computers (remember that Seth drives a Prius, so that's how he's getting 89 MPG) that keep track of MPG to daily song sales rankings from the ITunes music store, everything is being compared against the highest recorded level.
The problem with benchmarking, according to Seth, is that it causes (makes it easy) for companies to continue to be mediocre; and I completely agree with Seth. Don't misunderstand: companies that surpass sales benchmarks may be doing ok financially, but they are no innovating. Sooner or later someone else will surpass that high sales benchmark but slightly adjusting their price or capturing a bigger sales channel.
Seth points to companies like Hummer and Mini as companies that did not create their products to compete with benchmarks; I would add Maybach (yes, I have posted about Maybach before) to that list. Maybach did not start out trying to build one of the most (benchmarked) expensive luxury sedan, rather they arrived at that price point because they absolutely refused to sacrifice quality or innovation. Will Maybach ever be the top-selling (benchmarked) luxury sedan? Highly unlikely (although selling one car for Maybach is probably equal to 10-12 Mercedes or Lexus luxury sedan sales).
One of the interesting things I find about blogs, mine included, is that we measure our popularity or worth by the amount of people that our statistics counter tells us have visited our site; we benchmark ourselves against the traffic that more popular sites receive. Some of us take it even further by measuring the number of inbound links to our blogs, requesting that others link to us to improve that number, and linking to others to improve their numbers -- not that exchanging links is a bad thing, it does help to drive traffic, but many times I find myself being frustrated with the number of links on my blog vs. the blog that someone else offers. The interesting thing, getting back to the site traffic benchmarking, is that the site traffic meters do not accurately display the number of people reading my blog; they do not tell me the number of people reading my blog via RSS (for those of you keeping track, yes, I have posted about this topic before).
In his post, Seth says that he is giving up on comparing himself to benchmarks. Novel concept, but almost impossible to avoid unfortunately. There are too many things in every day life that provide constant feedback about performance against benchmark.