Sunday, 28 February 2010

If it's measurable it's not worth knowing.


The title is meant to be provocative and counter intuitive though it's more important than business aesthetics blather. 

It stems from something a senior market researcher said to me a while back. He said "if it's not measurable, it's not worth knowing". I was his house guest at the time, so it seemed  churlish to respond that love can't be quantified, that the feelings of pain, elation, euphoria, crying, singing, dancing, winning, losing, worrying and so forth and so on are all deeply integral to our lives and that there's beauty in the unquantifiable. It would be like putting a cost benefit analysis on a spouse to see if we've secured a better deal than our neighbour or colleague. It would be offensive to measure up our respective life partners to see who manages the household better, breeds superior children, has better taste in furnishings or provides a superior quality of sex.

Pathological quantitative analysis of pretty much everything within the corporate environment has led to the dominance of the spreadsheet as a killer predator drone for the decision making process. 

Numbers are safe, numbers are transnational. Numbers are unambiguously intentional, and the numbers add up.

That's why it's really important to know when to count yourself out.

The ability to make decisions based on intelligence and intuition is an important part of what makes a kick ass business, kick ass.

Sure the universe is mathematically coded at a particle physics level and more, but here's my argument. Putting the numbers before the love, is the surest way to to a diminished life. An inferior attempt at living what feels like a bespoke chance to manifest our true identities. One that by another definition, by its slavish devotion to numerical advantage is restricted to making decisions based on what the numbers say and not how they make us feel.

Feelings are more important than facts is something I've lifted off more formidable minds than mine to support how great advertising works more effectively on an emotional level. But here's the irony. You need to crunch the numbers to figure out if it's the numbers or the feelings that work better. Which is my way of saying Im not a numeric luddite. Unlike the Unabomber's target, numbers can't be bombed and are most definitely here to stay.

Nevertheless, the irony of using numbers to verify the supremacy of feelings is a mirror reflection of yet one more of the many enigmas of life that only a fool can fail to encounter. We know so little of where we come from, probably less about where we're going, and all the while we're saddled with a biased processor for decision making.

Irrespective of the numbers the evolutionary biologists know how well our primate brains are embarrassingly backward at dealing with slow moving catastrophes. We all panicked over say the Y2K bug, because it wasn't inconceivable that we might be on a flight the night the millenium rolled over. But the slow moving catastrophe we face from the way we exploit the planet and it's displacement on say the climate or the maths on never ending diapers and finite landfill space feels less tangible. 

Like having a spoon less of sugar in the next cuppa or reusing a polymer bag.

Put another way. It's not the numbers that point the way to figuring out our medium term survival chances. The scientists, those high priests of the quantifiable, the repeatable and the observable-on-demand can't agree on what constants are. Speed of light, boiling points and much more from the contextual variables that can't be repeated and thus we've backed a horse with magically erratic form.

Maybe we need to lift from the mystical language that the quantum physicists are using? They talk with stroked beards of matter coming into and out of existence, of particles being everywhere at the same time but in other dimensions, of parallel universes, dark matter, time as surface and maybe exceptional linear narrative (in this dimension). Ladies and Gentleman the slide rule slides incoherently in space time theory. It's beyond the unifying theory powers of the mathematical geniuses of our day.

But Oh how they would kill for a concise unifying equation that fits on a T Shirt.

If they, our scientists, are struggling with linear and coherent logic to explain how something as simple as the existence of matter actually matters, then why would we sacrifice any potential to embrace chance and circumstance as unpredictable friends of the business environment? Why would we replace them with the dead and sterile certainty of spreadsheet fetishism and the uber conclusiveness of knowing every decision until the grave will be a quantitative and numerate assessment of likely risk over potential gain? 

I yawn melodramatically.

There's a call centre consultancy business I know that I use as a stage setting over determining the right level of quantitative rigour that is required to ensure that work efficacy is given the remit it deserves because the call centre business is one of the most measured and controlled problem resolution environments we know.

And the most reviled.

I'm not binary about this though. I had a sensational call centre experience in Hong Kong booking my flight back to Bangkok (Thank's Emirates). Yet we've all been caught in 'put on hold' hell or endless detours to return to our original call destination through obtuse call management and it's this unfuzzy logic style of problem assessment and solution, that human operators need to be able to pull the rip chord on. To descend away from a higher systems blindness, and on towards an intelligent and intuitive approach that embraces human intuition over standard operational procedure. Whatever that is.

So to round up. While quantitative description of business scenarios and operational decisions will always be the hygiene of grown up business, it's really important to file all those numbers and the spreadsheets they are crunched from, in the proper place. It's the one that knows everyone else is using the same systematic approach to achieve the same unremarkable consistency and mechanistic results. It's a depressing reason for dragging one's sorry ass into work and taking a salary for as it diminishes our purpose as a species and prevents us performing in a manner where the remarkable takes place. 

That's why if it's measurable it's not worth knowing.

Or more accurately. 

If it's unmeasurable. There's something interesting going on.

What else is there to meaningfully achieve during our enigmatic but historically brief stay on this planet?