Friday’s Finds #1

In an attempt to make my finds on Twitter more explicit, this may be the start of regular posts on some of the things I learned this past week (weekly seems better than monthly).

Numbers & Measurement

From Charles Green at The Trusted Advisor:

If you can measure it, you can manage it; if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; if you can’t manage it, it’s because you can’t measure it; and if you managed it, it’s because you measured it.

Every one of those statements is wrong. But business eats it up. And it’s easy to see why.

The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure.

More on meaningless numbers used to measure things, from Dave Snowden.

We face the challenge of meeting increasing legitimate demands for social services with decreasing real time resources. That brings with it questions of rationing, control and measurement which, however well intentioned, conspire to make the problem worse rather than better. For me this all comes back to one fundamental error, namely we are treating all the processes of government as if they were tasks for engineers rather than a complex problem of co-evolution at multiple levels (individuals, the community, the environment etc.).

Open Source

David Eaves discusses how being open, like embracing open source software, is becoming important for economic development:

Vancouver is not broken – but it could always be improved, and  twitter confirms a suspicion I have: that programmers and creative workers in all industries are attracted to places that are open because it allows them to participate in improving where they live. Having a city that is attractive to great software programmers is a strategic imperative for Vancouver. Where there are great software programmers there will be big software companies and start ups.

Via @SoulSoup is the story of DimDim (free, open source, web conferencing platform) [dead link] making CNET’s Webware Top 100 for 2009 [dead link]. Open source is moving up the software stack, first with operating systems, then general applications and now richer applications. Software vendors have to be continuously moving into higher value applications to remain relevant. This is a natural industry evolution that few purchasers, especially in government, understand.

Learning & Working

Rob Paterson:

In 1996, aged 45, I was on a train with Fraser Mustard. We were returning from a trip to Queens University in Kingston,  where he had been giving a master class to  a group of senior people in the Canadian Government service. I had been working for him as an adviser for about a year. Working with him was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I asked him if he would consider taking me on full time.

“You are an adult now Rob. Time to go out on your own.” He paused and then added. “I am tired. You cannot rely on me for your life.”

The greatest advice I have ever had given by the greatest man I have ever encountered.

Via @changedotorg –  “In fact, if you look at what’s really happening right now in the nonprofit sector, you’ll find several reasons NOT to go back to school and focus on what organizations are really looking for in potential candidates.” When a Degree isn’t enough [dead link]

Charles Jennings:

There’s enough evidence now to show that Instructor-Led Training is not effective as an approach for the majority of employee development. ILT may be helpful for some change management and big-picture ‘concept’ development, but it is demonstrably the least effective and certainly the least efficient approach for most learning that’s required.

5 Responses to “Friday’s Finds #1”

  1. Howard Johnson

    I agree that there are many instances of problems resulting from measures that are based on little more than common sense or tradition, but it is not helpful to base decisions on gut instincts or politics. I believe the need is to increase people’s understanding of good measurement practices and how to develop a deeper understanding of what their measurements really mean. Everyone should know if their measures are valid. In turn, that means being able to say what your measures mean, how they are relevant to practice, and how they are helping to improve practice. It’s not just for big wigs either. Front line employees need to understand how to use measurement to guide practice.

  2. Thomas Stone

    Thanks for this new feature at your blog — a brilliant idea to condense and share some of the best you learn from Twitter each week! I might do the same at Element K Blog (on Twitter I’m @ThomasStone).

    I missed meeting you at the CSTD reception in Halifax. I met David Ferguson there, and wanted to chat with you as well — since I follow you on Twitter and so on — but I was in many other conversations, and then I guess you weren’t actually attending the entire conference so I missed you. Maybe next time.

  3. graham watt

    Harold, I dredged this up from my stillborn book.
    Numbers instead of ideas.

    Our submission to technological reductionism and numeracy in all creative advertising thinking endangers the creation of persuasive ideas. The advertising milieu has opted for a physics approach rather than an intuitive, biological approach with little room for intuitive thought or what might be termed, local knowledge. To quote the eminent British physicist, Lord Kelvin: “When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it. But when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind”. Kelvin uttered this in 1884, but it is gospel today.

    Let me answer Kelvin with the quote of a famous American inventor, yacht designer and engineer, Nathaniel Greene Herreshoff. Herreshoff designed 6 America’s Cup winners in the late 19th century, the same time as Kelvin’s quote. In a speech at M.I.T. Herreshoff noted: “When designing tall structures such as masts, while it is important to get the mathematics right, it is even more important that the mast look as if it won’t fall down.”

    Staying within the yachting context, Ted Turner once had Britton Chance design a potential America’s Cup yacht and Chance, a brilliant and very scientific naval architect, was convinced by the numbers that he had a design breakthrough. His yacht featured a keel trailing edge which was 5 inches wide instead of tapering to a point. His research numbers pointed to great boatspeed.

    However, in reality the resulting drag from turbulence made the boat very slow, and Turner, losing race after race, furious, and never without a crackling retort, yelled at Chance: “Geez, Britt, even a turd is pointy at both ends!” In more temperate contemplation, the British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once noted: “What I do is arrive at an idea I like, then I try to prove it with mathematics. If I can’t, I don’t throw the idea out, I throw the mathematics out, and start again.” Therefore we have Math; Math Lite, and Math with Added Thinking Power! Unfortunately, straight Math is the marketing metrics mantra today.


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