What Do You Measure

I think it’s important to measure things. I want to know how good I’m doing. I want to know if I’m moving the needle. I want to know if my experiments are working.

I have spent a lot of time in the nonprofit and policy worlds, affected by a philanthropic drive to measure that too often focuses on measuring the wrong thing. Fans of “The Wire” might remember the way stats were rigged by the police department in a way that made careers but destroyed lives. Fans of education might have a felt sense of the way an overemphasis on standardized testing is sucking the soul out of our most important institution.

I appreciated Seth Godin’s post today - Numbers (and the magic of measuring the right thing). He points us to the pattern and its consequences:

The right numbers matter. A hundred years ago, Henry Ford figured out how to build a car far cheaper than his competitors. He was selling the Model T for a fraction of what it cost other companies to even make one of their cars. And so measuring the cost of manufacture became urgent and essential.

And farmers discovered the yield was the secret to their success, so tons per acre became the most important thing to measure. Until people started keeping track of flavor, nutrition and side effects.

And then generals starting measuring body count...

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.

On the other hand, when you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

Here are some of the the things I want to measure:

I want to be able to measure whether people feel more connected to one another once we’ve done something together. I want to measure whether people feel more connected to their purpose, whether they feel like the are more likely to do what they are really meant to do. I want to measure whether people shipped, whether projects were launched, whether ideas were tested in the real world because someone worked with me. I want to measure whether the experience that we shared continues to reverberate 6 months after, one year after, whether it matters 5 years on. I want to measure whether transformation happened.

What do you want to measure?