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As of 14 January 2010, the total U.S. public debt outstanding, to the penny, was USD 12,258,545,028,915.24.

 

As of 18 January 2010, the estimated world population was 6,797,198,335.

 

When the earthquake toppled buildings in Haiti last week, roughly 9 million people were affected, and the death toll has been estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 persons.

 

Day-to-day, we deal with such large numbers that they are essentially meaningless to us beyond being big, really big, even bigger, extremely big, and so big it makes my head spin.

 

The real meaning in the numbers becomes apparent and is best appreciated if we focus on one.

 

On a quarterly basis, for example, companies report revenues and expenses, profits and losses, etc., that can total millions or billions of their local currency. Sometimes one decision (good or bad) clearly affects results, such as whether to build one new paper machine or close one old mill. Less apparent and often less appreciated are the individual yes-no choices that amass each day.

 

The total effect – whether a company profits or goes out of business – is built on one customer making a decision to buy one company’s product over another, by one other customer making the same decision, and then an accumulation of one customer after another making the same purchasing decision. The one customer’s purchasing choice might be determined by how well or poorly one sheet of paper performs in one printer. The performance characteristics of that one sheet of paper can be maintained or enhanced by one employee doing his or her job well, or impaired by one other who becomes distracted at one critical point in the production process.   

 

In Haiti, the numbers of dead and missing become meaningful when we consider them one by one. When we see a picture of a missing aid worker or student from Florida, when we know a name and learn even a little bit about one person, the magnitude of the loss moves from our minds to our hearts. And when one person is rescued from the rubble, we are reminded of the value of one life among millions and billions.

 



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