Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Tyranny of Metrics (Jerry Z. Muller)

Every survey and annual performance self-review you take and each quarterly earnings report your employer releases are full of items that become metricized data. The Tyranny Of Metrics is Jerry Z. Muller’s “measured” and systematic retort to the constant barrage of data and analysis when it is misapplied.

The overarching theme of this book is incredibly valid; Muller’s central argument is that data measurement isn’t done with the best of intents and that data itself can be gamed, manipulated, or bogged down into administrative, bureaucratic hell. From increasing the numbers of “data wonks” (my term) who analyze and report on metrics to increasing the amount of bureaucrats who synthesize data, the world is drowning in information. Muller argues that while some of this information gathering has had positive impacts, it often yields to cutting corners, increased costs, cheating and gaming the system to achieve a desired result, or flat out dishonesty in the guise of ensuring the public knows how good you are. Rankings, outcomes, and other “measures of success” are called into question as Muller pulls out numerous examples to counter the want for more data and more metrics in our society.

While Muller’s passion and arguments are at their strongest, many of the examples and case studies read anecdotally. It would have been impressive to see more concrete examples of gamesmanship and corner cutting incorporated into his book, including stories where it cost organizations their reputation and more. There were some examples, especially in the financial realm, but more would have helped strengthen the case. Regardless, The Tyranny Of Metrics is deserving of consideration for all types of organizations to ensure that data gathering is done with the right purpose.