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02/18/2011

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Lest anyone improperly misconstrue your reference to "measurement," Ann, let me add that measurements do not have to be numbers. The word, "number," does not even appear in your article. Expectations of quality, quantity, time, cost, and any other performance output result category can be discussed, clearly defined, communicated and measured by many means.

The literal meaning of "thinking outside the box" recognizes that we all too often restrict ourselves by creating imaginary walls, constraints and limits that do not really exist. Frequently, there are no boundaries to choices except those we impose upon ourselves (often unconsciously): see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_outside_the_box for the visual illustration of the ancient phrase.

Ann,

I am always glad to see someone add a note of sobriety to counteract the frequently mindless worship of measurement, as in, " if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.”

You suggest that we are tempted to measuring the wrong things by the ease of measurement. this is exactly right–the old case of the drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlamp because the light is better there than where he lost them. It's not just a joke; someone reminded me just yesterday of a wonderful paper by Richard Feynman called “Cargo Colt Science,” where he cites very real and very scary examples in the heart of science and public policy. (If anyone is interested, find it here http://ow.ly/3ZZcj).

I like how Jim Brennan has raised the issue to an even higher level, though I suspect it may be lost on most of those at the “metrics = management” level. His Wikipedia link about thinking outside the box offers another insight; the power of metaphor as a way of stretching insight without being limited by “the box.”

All good stuff. Thanks to both of you for raising the thought level this chilly afternoon.

Jim:

Yes - thanks for reinforcing a point that was in my head as I wrote this, but didn't make it into the post. Measurement CAN be qualitative as well as quantitative. Not all important expecations or accomplishments lend themselves to numbers - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find common language and definitions that help us determine whether we are doing the right things in the right way.

Thanks for the link to the great "outside the box" visual and for, as Charlie says below, raising an important issue to an even higher level. (Perhaps there's a Brennan follow-up post here somewhere!)

Charlie:

So glad to hear that this post resonated for you - thanks for sharing your thoughts... and the Feynman link. As you and Jim so wisely observe here, we are ultimately talking about communication and shared insight, the kind that can help all of us better understand and improve on the work we do.

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