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September 07, 2011

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Frank Walton

The disappointing thing about measurement is that it always oversimplifies (this coming from a measurement evangelist, remember). A doctor evaluates your health by measuring weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. No one measure tells the whole story -- and how many measures does the doc need till she gets a "complete" measure? Science works by chopping up our lived experience into pieces, and then assigning attributes and quantities to those chunks. And that's what we do in PR measurement. We just need to keep our scientific-method-modesty string tied prominently around our finger.

The argument between data and something else (gut feel, tradition, belief) is centuries old; maybe it's always been with us. Remember a few weeks ago all that gush in the media when Steve Jobs announced his stepping down as CEO -- he ignored the data; the customer doesn't know what he wants; the creator/dictator decided what we would buy and use. Goofiness factor aside, there is some "truth" here -- history shows lots of successful decisions ("lucky"?) made without or in despite of data.

All that said, I certainly prefer a science-based pilot and air traffic control system when I fly. I expect my doctor to measure the heck out of my vitals, and I'll go get a second (data-informed) opinion to maximize my confidence in a diagnosis. No question about the value of data. The question is: what kind of company (or person) do you want to be? How do you want to make decisions?

Bill Paarlberg

“The disappointing thing about measurement is that it always oversimplifies.” I really like that Frank, thanks, and will use it someplace, soon. It seems to be both obvious yet fairly profound all in one. In our effort to understand the complexity of the world, we must err in the opposite direction.

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