Insight into the Fumbles from Management by Metrics

January 21, 2021

If you are into MBA speak, “management by metrics” makes perfect sense to you. You may even whisper the phrase to your significant other under certain circumstances. “How Management by Metrics Leads Us Astray” is a helpful explanation about the steady deterioration of product quality in much of US business and services.

The write up explains:

Google’s search results are dominated by ads and many users now use workarounds to find what they’re looking for (“Best headphone reddit”). LinkedIn looks like Minesweeper. Facebook was a fun place to meet friends. And if you search for an electronics product on Amazon, you immediately feel like you’re at a flea market in the middle of Shenzhen. This is the result of hundreds of decisions that were motivated by a short-term focus on specific metrics like revenue and click rates. And while these decisions most likely optimized the metrics, they made the user experience worse. The problem is that we don’t have the technology to measure the right thing. Or maybe the “right thing” is inherently immeasurable.

I would extend the notion of management to a more subjective notion. Those who think they understand metrics believe that “logical thought” facilitates other decisions. The result is that wrong headed assumptions and overbearing arrogance create some fascinating business decisions.

My term for this adolescent approach to making judgments is “high school science club management.” Science club — at least when I was in high school — consisted of bright youth who were darned sure of their brilliance. Interacting with science club members reinforced the perceptions of excellence, superiority, and intellectual invincibility. Thus, high school science club is a wondrous example of managing to ensure social and political disaster. The more money a technology centric company makes, the greater the social and political costs.

If you read it before dozing off at night, you could whisper the companies mentioned in your partner’s ear. Delightful.

Stephen E Arnold, January 21, 2021

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