If a recent New York Times article (“Statisticians 10, Poets 0” – May 18, 2014) is any indication, there now exist apps that measure:
- amount and quality of your sleep
- number of seconds that lapse between bites of food
- number of steps you take each day
- how influential you are in social media
And much, much more!
Some speculate that the Internet and social media have fueled our national obsession with metrics. Or maybe we need more numbers because people are spending very little time actually reading words. A study by Chartbeat looked at “deep user behavior” across two billion web visits and found that 55 percent of readers spent fewer than 15 seconds on a single page (I’m hoping you’re still reading by now!).
So we’re tracking more, but reading less. Is this necessarily bad, as long as we’re obtaining useful information to enable good decision-making?
According to the author Anne Lamott, who provides the mandatory counterview to this fairly upbeat article on apps, using metrics to measure aspects of our personal life is making us zombies (Hey, maybe that’s why all those books, movies and TV shows about zombies are so hot right now!). Says Lamott:
“What this stuff steals is our aliveness. Grids, spreadsheets and algorithms take away the sensory connection to our lives, where our feet are, what we’re seeing, all the raw materials of life, which by their very nature are disorganized.”
She also opines that our current obsession with quantification represents a male point of view, because it favors order.
“Women have always been handmaidens of birth and death, and that means mess and instinct,” she said. “Data, by contrast, gives the appearance of control. Everything that is truly human is the opposite of that. It’s about surrendering control. The surface and the numbers aren’t going to hold if your child gets sick or your wife gets cancer.”
Point well taken, but I think there’s a middle path between slavish obsession with metrics – in our personal and our business lives – and just “letting it all hang out!”
Using numbers to track business progress and results is a time-honored tradition. I bet fur-traders kept a diary of how many pelts they sold or traded in some old worn leather-bound journal, tracking results year after year to find patterns and maximize their success.
At Intertech, the numbers we use to track our progress against SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals are essential to keeping us focused. Along with clear goals, we have consistent and frequent communication around the goals. But we balance our clear-headed review of numbers with time spent talking, playing and enjoying time together as human beings (from leadership daily huddles to ensure we’re all on the same page with what’s happening across the firm to fun social gatherings with the whole firm).
And as leaders, my partners and I always factor in the human equation when metrics tell one story but our understanding of a situation provides another perspective.
So count me among those who agree with that wise guy, Albert Einstein, who famously warned, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Now where are the pivot tables for today’s meeting?