Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Must Everything Be Measured?
In a word, metrics. How do we measure up? Are we faster, better, or stronger than the last time we checked? Are all of our measurable qualities demonstrating continuous improvement? Success of any organization or entity, these days, boils down to numbers and can readily be assessed on the pan balance of comparison. Good numbers constitute good work, and good work is the all in all. Eons and billions are spent monitoring and managing metrics, and profit empires are built on such. This is humongously meaningful for countless things such as those that are inanimate, but what of those that are not? What about people? With respect to people, there are a number of immeasurable qualities which significantly influence successful outcomes. Many of the immeasurable qualities that powerfully contribute to success are contingent on the affective culture or mindset of the people involved. In the flurry of checklist assignment dispensing, deadlines pressing in, paper gathering, number crunching, outcome analyzing, and bottom line ramifications, where are the people? Where are the feelings of the people? Machines heartlessly and most effectively produce brilliant metrics. The human variable notches down the effectiveness because this pesky variable has feelings; unquantifiable feelings that can and do unpredictably tip the balance. Drat and double drat. Take schools, for instance. Are all of the boxfuls of voluminous paperwork generated and tabulated for each student honestly, truly honestly improving that student’s understanding of content, application of understanding, and capability of producing connection building scaffolding? I do not think so. From my vantage point of thirty years in the classroom, I see the areas in most dire need of bolstering among students to be relational. Feelings, communication, empathy, and compassion are all immeasurable and they all lead to understanding. Understanding leads to meaning-making which suddenly brings relevance into the educational picture. Encouragement is another immeasurable but remains by far the single most important and long-lasting motivator. We can try to motivate extrinsically but when the novelty of the incentive wears off we’ve lost. Encouragement, on the other hand, cumulatively builds confidence and commitment and requires no paperwork, simply words spoken from one heart to another heart. A leader comprehends this human need and harnesses its power as a strong motivator of people. A leader comprehends that to create and to innovate, which exist at the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning domains, the affective environment needs to be one of encouragement. The affective environment of a metrics driven organization is fear, fear of the pan balance upon which each one’s efforts are regularly measured. Fear can surely be a motivator, but in a very sad, unhealthy, and dysfunctional sort of way. Fear binds creativity. The data obsession of a metrics environment aligns all efforts on an efficient and lock-step path of conformity which is neatly quantifiable, but deals the death blow to all things time-consumingly creative. The pendulum swing of those cultural values to which we most deeply cling is presently at its widest arc in metrics glorification, but it will swing back because historically it always does. Numbers can never and will never paint the whole picture when the hearts and dreams of people are involved.