Summary of The Tyranny of Metrics

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Professor Jerry Z. Muller says today’s society has a “metric fixation” – an obsession with measuring, ostensibly to fuel improvements and publicize the results of their tallies in the name of transparency and accountability. Muller exposes how metrics can mislead and distort, and he details how education, health care, law enforcement, the military, business, finance and nonprofit entities use metrics improperly. Muller makes a compelling case for why you shouldn’t substitute measurement for personal experience or sound judgment. getAbstract recommends his practical insights to executives, policy experts and organization leaders trying to escape the metrics trap.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why and how organizations embrace metrics,
  • Why a “metric fixation” can be damaging and
  • What you can do to make measurements more useful.
 

About the Author

Jerry Z. Muller is an author, journalist and professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. His books include The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought and Adam Smith in His Time and Ours.

 

Summary

The Argument Against Metrics

People with a “metric fixation” claim that exact measurement increases transparency and responsibility. They believe that numerical calculations are an acceptable substitute for personal experience and talent, that publicizing metrics makes institutions more accountable, and that rewards or punishments tied to measured objectives are the most effective motivators. These arguments are mistaken. In fact, a metric fixation can distort information and encourage individuals to game the system. Distortions derive from flaws such as calculating metrics only on things that are easy to measure, measuring simple things when your desired outcome is more complex, quantifying inputs rather than outputs, and “degrading information quality through standardization.” You can cheat by lowering your standards to increase your numbers, and by omitting or manipulating data to get better results. People also commit “gaming through creaming,” which means taking easier clients or cases so you have more wins or excluding challenging assignments that might depress your rate of success.


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