Blinded by the lights

Yesterday’s post on Malcolm Gladwell’s article on puzzles and mysteries prompted me to write about measurement.  I recently chaired a Media Trust conference/seminar on public relations and one of the speakers talked at length on measuring PR results.  [In fairness, he worked for a measurement company, so it’s his job and how he collects his salary.]

A quote on one of his slides:

"If you can’t measure it, you shouldn’t be doing it."

I could be flip at this point, as I can think of many things that are beneficial to do that I have no intention of measuring.  [My daughters would think it very peculiar if I were to ask them to rate me on the bedtime reading…]

There’s a lot of misconceptions about measurement.  Particularly the assumption that they’re neutral, but the truth is that they influence what they’re supposed to be unbiasedly measuring.  If physicists understand that taking a measurement alters the system, what makes managers think it’s different for them?

But one element is that management is not a puzzle, but a mystery.  And if management is a mystery, then more information only obscures things, it doesn’t clarify.  It’s a bit like driving in fog – foglights and headlights help, but if you’ve ever tried driving in thick fog and switching your headlights to full-beam, you’ll know that brighter, better-lit fog is more difficult…

Similarly, there are plenty of people who drive around at night with their foglights on as well as their headlights.  Presumably because they think the more light they can shed on the road ahead, the better their driving.  But does it actually illuminate anything valuable or is the real challenge what’s going on behind the wheel or, even more crucially, behind their eyes?

Any managers you know fit that description?