Why Measure?

We live in a culture that is crazy about numbers. We seek standardization, we revere precision, and we aspire for control. The very ancient and dominant belief of Western culture is that numbers are what is real. If you can number it, you make it real. Once made real, it’s yours to manage and control. We increasingly depend on numbers to know how we are doing for virtually everything. We ascertain our health with numbers. How many calories or grams should I eat? What’s my cholesterol reading? We assess one another with numbers. What’s your I.Q.? What’s your GPA? Your Emotional Intelligence? And of course we judge organizational viability only with numbers. What’s the customer satisfaction rating? Inventory turns? ROI? P/E ratio?

It is numbers and only numbers that define and make visible what is real. This is the "hard stuff," the real world of management- graphs, charts, indices, ratios. Everyone knows that "you can only manage what you can measure." The work of modern managers is to interpret and manipulate these numeric views of reality. The desire to be good managers has compelled many people to become earnest students of measurement. But are measures and numbers the right pursuit? Do the right measures make for better managers? Do they make for stellar organizations?

As we look into the future of measurement, we want to pause for a moment and question this number mania. We’d like you to consider this question. What are the problems in organizations for which we assume measures are the solution?

By Margaret Wheatley

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