Like any good professional, I love data too. I love being able to track and measure. Knowing how to measure and knowing how to analyze is essential for me to be able to do my job, but to paraphrase any Marvel hero, “with great powers come great responsibilities.”
That responsibility is to realize essentially two things: the first is that not everything that really counts can be accounted for and that not everything that is accounted for really counts. The second is that when a metric becomes a target it ceases to be a good metric.
Defining KPI’s (key performance indicators) plays a central role. These are the most important metrics to measure, monitor, and execute for progression. They provide a way for us to see if the strategy we initially outlined is actually producing results. They focus the attention of the team members on the rise or fall of these indicators, provide a common and clear language for communicating performance, are verifiable, and guarantee accurate data.
However, we can’t let ourselves be blinded by data on an Excel sheet, circle or bar charts, because this leads us to fall into the MCNamara fallacy. And, no, I am not talking about the world record holder for surfing the biggest wave in Nazaré. I am talking about the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America (1961-1968).
McNamara’s fallacy originates from the Vietnam War. The enemy body count was defined as a KPI, and this was considered an accurate and objective measure of success. The war was reduced to a mathematical model: by increasing enemy losses and minimizing one’s own, victory was guaranteed. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
In fact, treating war as a mathematical model goals were imposed on the military based on those same KPI’s, resulting in a substantial increase in “enemy” deaths.
However, this increase would also include several bombed villages, as well as unarmed villagers (which I humbly assume would not be the goal). These executions increased the revolt of the people of Vietnam, causing more rebel factions to join the fight against the United States of America.
The story further tells that US Air Force Brigadier General Edward Lansdale addressed McNamara saying that his scientific method for tracking the progress of the war did not consider one extremely important aspect: “the feelings of the ordinary rural Vietnamese people.” McNamara noted down on his list in pencil what was passed on to him. However, he quickly erased it, saying, «We can’t measure it, so it must not be important.»
Originally published: Marketeer