But don’t measure THIS

John Dodds responded to my post about measurement. So here’s some more: There’s no doubt that you should measure things that are both important and measurable. When you do, it’s inevitable that what you measure improves.

Caveat #1 is not to measure things that aren’t important, just because they’re measurable. Business lore is rife with stories about companies that started measuring something… like defects to the last sigma… only to discover that people figured out that the best way to improve the measurement was to not make anything at all. Start measuring how long your operators stay on the phone, for example, and you’ll discover plenty of operators that just hang up on long-winded callers. Measuring the right thing is essential.

But caveat #2 is even more important: the art of business and organization is in realizing that there are important things you can’t measure. These ephemeral, soft things are the ones that often differentiate one organization from another, that lead to one company winning when all the metrics appear to be the same.

True story: I have a gig coming up, one that was planned a month or two ago. I went to book the tickets. First I went to Travelocity. Then, halfway through the process, decided to go straight to American to do it. Not sure why. Finished the reservation. Went to pay. Got a popup: can’t do that because the ticket has already been booked.


I had forgotten I had already booked the ticket (That part isn’t amazing. that happens all the time). No, what was amazing is that six weeks ago, I had gone through the same process, picked the same airline, the same flight times… exactly the same. Because of something you can’t measure, but is important nonetheless. And smart managers know how to invest in that too.