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What gets measured gets understood

15th May 17 10:28 am

This is why

It is easy to dismiss nuggets like these because when the dust settles and the shine deteriorates, what once was gold is now just another one of those tired clichés and some time after that, maybe even considered foolish when enough people have failed in applying it – and it is easy to do so. Certain corporate culprits cultivate a culture of constant measurement that inevitably stifles any attempt for individuals to think and expand outside of the bureaucratic bubble. Who here jumps for joy when the project manager is breathing down your neck all the time?

But then again, we would still be in the dark ages if it weren’t for measurement. Some clever chaps in the late middle ages began asking remarkable questions about the world they were living in. It is thanks to their novel measuring method that we get to enjoy the wonders of our modern age today. These early scientists first established if their questions were testable. Once they had a solid question, they started making measurements. They did not measure everything, no, they only measured what was necessary to answer their questions.

The caveat is that measurement can take all sorts of forms and some of them work and some of them don’t. Take for example, measuring the experience of happiness. It turns out that experience is not a fixed thing because when people were asked about their happiness during an enjoyable activity, shortly afterwards or at the end of the day, there was a clear difference in self-reported joy.

But what happens when people are told beforehand to be mindful of their activity, for example, a chocolate they are about to eat? I invite all readers to try this today. Please rate your last chocolate experience on a scale from one to ten. Now take your time unwrapping today’s chocolate from its wrapper. What is its colour, is the wrapper cool to the touch and what sound does it make when opened? Now enjoy a single bite of chocolate, and let it sit on your tongue and melt and mingle and diffuse. Only swallow the chocolate after it has bathed in your mouth for a while. Now rate the experience and compare it to the previous score. Interestingly, some people enjoy the chocolate more while others find that it has unpleasant notes that they had never noticed before.

What we have hopefully established is that a 99p chocolate bar is much more than just a quick saccharine hit but actually a multi-sensory journey. Furthermore, we have highlighted how the act of measuring something inevitably changes the thing being observed for better or for worse – a Schrödinger’s chocolate, if you will. Anyone being micromanaged while trying to get into a rhythm is well familiar with this effect.

The art of measurement truly has a lot of potential to bog us down or to bring us forward and so we must always make sure that our questions are testable and that we are using the best form of measurement to get things done. Scientists have done it for spaceships, you and I have done it for chocolate, and businessmen and entrepreneurs can certainly do it for their projects.

Happy Monday to all!

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