Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Let's talk about Measurement

There is no other subject I have found to be as quick at generating comments as measurement.

Only yesterday I was discussing the 100-day habit idea when the conversation veered towards the complexity of the reasons for wanting to, for example, give up caffeine. The reasons why are, after all, so much more complex and interesting. Yes, I argued, but they obfuscate – one cannot see whether or not the habit is being formed without measuring the number of days one has abstained.

The measurement idea is simple, and reveals nothing or little of the complexity. But it is a highly effective way of defining success or failure. It seems, though, it is also disturbing. I don’t think people like bald measures that hold no insights into the why’s and wherefore’s.

Another example is Toastmasters – the club I attend to practice public speaking.

One of the first Toastmaster goals is to complete the first manual of 10 speeches. The quality of speeches that people give varies enormously – from the well prepared to the barely prepared, the intelligent to the flippant, the funny to the downright embarrassing. Yet despite all of this, there are very few people who are not better public speakers once they have finished those 10 speeches. As someone once wryly pointed out - he had never known anyone get worse.

So despite the differing quality and styles, the number of speeches gives an indication of competence. It is only an indication, of course, even if I did 100 speeches I don’t think I would ever get up to Obama’s standards, although it might be an interesting test.

I consider measurement to be one of the fundamentals in increasing performance. It’s not the only one, but it is a cornerstone.

As Lord Kelvin so succinctly pointed out - if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

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