I have been in solid meetings the past two days and yesterday watched a presentation that reminded me of the story of the crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 in 1972.
The pilots were coming in for a landing but the “gear down” light didn’t illuminate in the cockpit. They tapped the light. They flipped switches. The co-pilot opened a hatch and climbed down to see what the problem was. They continued to obsess about the light but they didn’t notice when one of them bumped into the steering column and turned off the autopilot, putting the jet into a slow descent.
No one looked out the windshield. They were looking at the dead nose gear light.
Splat. 99 dead. 77 survived.
Metrics — the act of collecting data about systems and processes — and then reporting them in dashboards can lead to the type of tunnel vision those pilots displayed 36 years ago. The obsession with gathering status reports for the sake of gathering status reports can divert the organization and its people from the task at hand. If you’re trying to smelt gold but you spend so much time tracking ingot development that you fail to notice that you’re in fact smelting lead — then you’re going to be really good at ingot development, but oblivious to the quality of the final output. This is why formerly good things get ruined when big companies acquire them and start to obsess about the efficiencies. “We’ll just swap out the good stuff for the okay stuff and no one will notice.”
Subjectivity — the measurement of quality — is it good? is it bad? Do we suck or do we rock? Those unmeasurable intangibles are dismissed by technocrats as “feeling” behavior prized by people to sloppy to appreciate precision. Or, they attempt to quantify the subjective with surveys and stupid metrics like “sentiment.”
Objectivity — the measurement of facts — has become de rigeur ever since Neutron Jack Welch of GE set forth the commandment that you have to measure it to manage it. And so commenced the age of the tyranny of metrics. The Excel tyrants are really really good at demanding status reports and updates, but the reality is no one looks at their work and is terrified to say: “Go away. Here’s a beach. Start counting grains of sand and give me a TPS report by tomorrow.”
Metrics people — turn yourself into analysts by looking out the window and telling your boss the swamp is getting really close.