If you think some things are too hard to measure, or if your business colleagues find measurement nearly impossible on some of the things they care most about, Douglas Hubbard’s book will open your eyes to more creative ways of tackling measurement challenges.
Scope of the book
Although this is a business book based around dealing with measurement challenges in a business context, the measurement principles he espouses are broadly applicable. It is not hard to think of applications in the sciences (of course) but equally in the arts. Basically any situation in which something has to be measured, ranked or compared as a platform for decisions is amenable to the measurement methods explained herein.
About the author
Douglas invented Applied Information Economics, a measurement method that has proven useful supporting tricky decisions in IT, R&D and other situations. Douglas also wrote The Failure of Risk Management: Why it’s Broken and How to Fix It, and How to Measure Anything in Cybersecurity Risk, betraying a professional interest shared with information security/risk management specialists like us.
The book’s strengths
Douglas’ core thesis is that, if you currently have no meaningful measures of something, then almost any observation of it probably constitutes a worthwhile measurement since it provides additional information based (to some extent) on fact. Although an observation might be subjective and vague, that does not necessarily make it worthless. We might not be able to elaborate on why the Mona Lisa is such an iconic image in precise, scientific terms, or quantify its artistic merit mathematically, but that widely held subjective perception accounts for a large part of its market value.
To be frank, it’s hard to think of any substantive weaknesses in the book, except maybe for one issue stemming from my own peculiar bias. While I accept Doug’s premise that observers can be taught to moderate their own biases (to some extent, anyway) in order to make their measurements more objective and accurate, I found the repeated references to ‘observer calibration’ a little distracting. Reading between the lines, it sounds as if the author sells ‘observer calibration’ courses. That said, Doug outlines the process dropping big hints about how the calibration occurs, so this is at worst a soft-sell.
Utility and value of the book
This book will cost you but a few dollars. If you are anything like me, you will be thinking of real-world applications within the first few chapters, re-framing your own approach to measurement, and starting to make use of the measurement concepts before you even finish reading it. Given that few if any business decisions could not be improved by better information, the book should pay for itself in a few hours ... and from there on it’s gravy all the way.
Get it. Read it. Contemplate it. Put it into action and pass it on.
PS There is also an accompanying workbook with problems and exercises to practice and learn the techniques described.