One f-law in particular stands out for me as something that’s all too true. It’s about the tendency to measure and focus on the wrong things because they are easy to track.
Instead, what we should focus on — in business and in life — is identifying what it is that we truly do want, even if it’s hard to measure.
In a society that seems to excel at measuring and celebrating empty accomplishments, it’s a great f-law to keep top of mind:
“Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.
For example, those who want a high quality of work life but don’t know how to measure it, often settle for wanting a high standard of living because they can measure it. The tragedy is that they come to believe that quality of life and standard of living are the same thing. The fact is that further increases to an already high standard of living often reduce quality of life.
Unfortunately and similarly, the (unmeasurable) quality of products or services is taken to be proportional to their (measurable) price. The price of a product or service, however, is usually proportional to the cost of producing it, not to its quality; and this cost tends to be proportional to the relative incompetence of the organization that produces it.
Like economists, managers place no value on work they do not pay for because they can’t measure it. Work that has no quantifiable output includes some of the most important work that is done, for example, raising children and maintaining a home. On the other hand, economists place a high value on work that destroys value, because the cost of such work can be measured. Hence the paradox: a prolonged war is a very good way of raising gross national product but reducing quality of life.
When it comes to life goals it’s even more basic than that. Managers don’t know what they want because they never think about it. One executive told his psychotherapist he was depressed because he felt he wasn’t successful. To the therapist he looked successful: good job, great salary, lovely family and beautiful home.
She asked how he would know when he was successful. He couldn’t answer. He just kept on striving without knowing what he was striving for. But I agree that, if they get as far as measuring, the measurement is usually quantitative and limited to how much they earn. Certainly the more they earn and the more their standard of living rises the more their quality of life drops. They become trapped by golden handcuffs.
In the workplace it’s also true that managers will measure anything that can be quantified in order to be able to set targets. Training is a great example. Many companies measure numbers of days training and numbers of people trained. If the goal is to do lots of training then that’s a good measurement. But the goal ought to be to develop the workforce to become more skilled.
The best organizations explicitly develop employees to fulfil their potential and even advise them on finding jobs outside the organization, if that’s what it takes. Measuring skills is harder. It takes time and commitment and, often, the value of training cannot be quantified. How astonishing that such ‘input’ measures continue to be accepted as valid even though they are value-less.”