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The Fatal Obsession with Metrics and Productivity

November 30, 2011 7 comments

I believe that the current worldwide obsession with metrics and productivity is one of the major reasons behind the ongoing collapse of the status quo. The reasons behind my belief stem from two intertwining aspects of the metrics and productivity charade.

1. Any hierarchical system that uses metrics and productivity to promote people is doomed to being gamed by marginally competent but clever scamsters.

2. Since the system promotes scamsters, it keeps on concentrating them in the upper levels of the hierarchy till that organization can no longer serve its original function.

You can see the negative effect of our obsession with metrics and productivity in areas as diverse as academia, law enforcement to manufacturing. In every single case, it follow a rather predictable trajectory starting with an initial apparent increase in productivity followed by a slow decline and hollowing out of that institution. This trajectory is a result of the fact that metrics and productivity end up rewarding people without any consideration for the effects of doing so- aka perverse incentives. As I had mentioned in an older post- this is a circular problem since perverse incentives create the need for more metrics and other measurements of productivity.

It is as if we are promoting and rewarding cancerous cells to grow faster while simultaneously starving and inhibiting healthy cells.

But why would most people go along with this scenario? In my opinion, it comes down to the popularity of short-term magical thinking whereby most people believe that they might become successful petty tyrants themselves. However magical thinking though necessary is not sufficient and has to be normalized with a lot of bullshit about metrics and productivity.

Metrics and productivity should then be seen attempts to normalize cancerous behavior.

I will explain that idea further in a couple of upcoming posts.

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