The Big ‘Measurement’ Myth

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON NOVEMBER 12, 2011

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It’s pretty much etched in stone: ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure.’ And this: ‘If you can’t measure it, it can’t be improved.’

I’d like to enthusiastically suggest that the overriding focus on ‘measurement’ as the key criterion to be considered in business management and leadership is … OK - wrong.

Everyone knows the arguments in favour of this thinking – they rule, in fact. They are repeated all the time, often (just perhaps) without a whole lot of thought. And of course, measurement is of vital importance. Without the accounting, engineering, and lawyering, every company - this company especially - would assuredly be toast.

But let’s keep some perspective. EllisDon would also assuredly have been toast in the ‘nineties without tons of pigheaded determination, a conscious defiance of logic and facts at the most difficult moments, emotion, and even the odd virtuous lie.

How do you measure all that? And which was more important to our survival? (The latter stuff – trust me – we won; measurement lost.) How do you accurately measure the benefit of our HR team? Our Engineering/R&D Department? Our receptionists? (Each vitally important beyond all doubt, but ‘vitally’ is not a measurement.)

Business doesn’t need more measurement, it needs (immeasurably) more wisdom. And individual courage. And raw risk taking passion (as opposed to the buzzword kind).

Here is what I would like to precisely measure: The extent to which people’s actions are driven by emotions (fear, desire, etc.) as opposed to logic and data.

Instead of measuring and analyzing everything, perhaps: Take some time to really consider what makes you, and the people around you, tick. Or take a risk on something that makes you (at least a little) nauseous with fear, that all the sensible people are warning against, and make it work. Or just go out and spread a little joy; give someone a hug. (Yes, we actually run a construction company here.)

And then measure all your success, using any criteria you want.

Geoff Smith (with respectful apologies to Robert Pirsig)