The Metric System: Context, Dumb Questions and Recommendations

It was a dumb question and no one could answer. We, as a team, looked dumb because we couldn’t answer. It was akin to this; you present a a dinner menu centered on grilled fish. You detail how the marinade works with the side dishes on the menu. You detail the table settings, the guests, the beverages and provide a shopping list for the ingredients as well as recipes. Everything is covered. So, if asked, how long do you fry the fish, that is a dumb question and no one can answer because that’s not what we’re doing. Yet, that is pretty much what happened this week.

Sadly, as in this case and many others, the “dumb” question is not obvious. Often these dumb questions are around “metrics.” People, metrics are not equivalent to outcomes. You can spend a lot of time fashioning metrics. But what outcome are you trying to achieve? An analyst once told me, a good metric should tell you either to continue or stop an activity. It should be tied to an outcome. People continue to track steps with smart devices. WHY? Because it’s a “recommendation?” You know that’s like the fish fry without context. If you track steps and heart rate and sleep, you get a wholistic snapshot of the impact of an activity on health. Or maybe you are counting calories and x number of steps means an ice cream treat. The point is, does step count alone do anything? No. You need context and an outcome. If you’re rely on, it’s a “recommendation,” you get side eye from me. Stop it.

We have policies in place where I live for safety. It is  hilarious if not sad when someone says, well, we don’t need to keep the emergency exit doors locked because there haven’t any thefts. Did they stop to think the reason policies were put in place were because  of thefts and people entering the building with ill intent. Half the time, I think this group wants another way to enter and exit the building without being seen by residents and staff. Often when people question policy and metrics, it’s really about something else. Hence it creates basically a mess. 

My most viewed post in the last 7 years and 10 months of this blog is American Horror Story: Eddie Van Halen, over 3,500 views and it  means nothing. I would not use that post as a writing sample, the story is bio/obituaral. I stumbled on to the right combination of tags that fed an algorithm. That metric is meaningless. It doesn’t tell me to stop or continue. When viewed as a whole with website metrics, it is an anomaly. This week, here is a step to take. Consider metrics in your life and what, if anything, they tell you.

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