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Wikipedia defines a benchmark as a point of reference for a measurement.

We use benchmarking to see how our company is doing against its competition.

We may use benchmarking to see how we are doing personally as compared to our peers.

As human beings we use "benchmarking" informally throughout our lives. We may look at our neighbour and measure ourselves against them ... is our car bigger, are we fitter, are we earning more, are we happier?

Its a very human thing to do ... and we can do it in a constructive way in order to motivate ourselves, OR we can also do it in a destructive way that can demoralize us, or make us envious.

So ... some advice about benchmarks in everyday life:

1. If you are using them, do so with the purpose of improving your own "measurement" ... not for negative reasons.
2. Take into account highs and lows when looking at benchmarks.
3. Compare yourself or your company to peers that make sense. I don't compare my athletic prowess to people 20 years younger than me ... but I might look at people 10 years younger than me :-)
4. Don't make assumptions ... the guy with the Armani suits, driving a Porsche and living in the swank apartment just might be up to his eyes in debt living pay cheque to pay cheque.
5. Don't be driven by the results ... just use them as one more input to your decisions. You should not take a course of action just because someone else is doing something. Make your own decisions!

Bottom line ... benchmarks are a tool to be used for positive motivation, keep it all in perspective and live your own life!