The wrong metrics

The world lost a creative genius yesterday with the passing of Steve Jobs. While there have already been a number of posts on the web on his vision and creative leadership which is how most of us will remember him, it reminded me of how we often measure things in life. This post basically came out of some of those thoughts as well as a fantastic post today by Frank Eliason formerly of @comcastcares fame. One part that really resonated with me is quoted below:

People are focusing on the completely wrong metrics and not properly educating executives on the real story of social media. Today, companies are focusing on metrics such as ‘likes,’ fans, followers, etc. These metrics tell you nothing of substance … Most companies proclaim to be ‘listening’ in the space but very few have changed or implement processes or products based on this listening.

While the post is very specific about social media, I often feel surrounded by metrics that have very little meaning. Often these become goals rather than indicators of value. Developer conversations often revolve around lines of code and code coverage by unit tests and yet these metrics can often be meaningless (like having a 80% code coverage means little if the most fragile parts of the code are ignored). Product conversations revolve around “likes on a Facebook fan page” or “number of tweets” which drive decisions. Career successes are measured not by what we have grown to be able to do but by the title and position we have at the company.

A very common quote in the management is “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” and yet often in the zeal to measure things, we often forget the Observer Effect which, stated simply, says that the act of observing something changes the properties of what’s being observed.

The thing I admired most about Steve Jobs and Apple was their ability to build truly innovative products, of taking risks and going with the heart even when metrics didn’t really exist to predict if they would be successful.

Sometimes all it takes is working on things you feel passionate about.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night, saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” -Steve Jobs

  • LoriHC

    There’s often more than an Observer Effect going on. Measuring the wrong things — especially if the measurements are used as a weapon — encourages those being measured to “juke the stats,” as the cops on The Wire call it.