Contractor yield

Imagine you’ve got a set of plans for a simple one-family home. And imagine that you’re a developer with acres of land waiting to be subdivided.

You could hire four different contractors and have them build that house on four corners of your land.

Within weeks, you’d know which ones were efficient, careful and effective. You’d easily be able to measure their productivity, because they have access to the same suppliers and are building the same house.

Is there any doubt at all that the best of them would be dramatically better than the worst? It’s not hard to imagine a 3x difference between the two.

And yet, in most fields, like heart surgery, copyediting and continuing education, we fail to do this. In others, though, once we start doing it, it feels like we get carried away and can’t stop.

Just because it’s easy to measure doesn’t mean we should (and the opposite is even more true).