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What Seth Godin Got Right – and What It Means for Management

“The easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth.”

- Seth Godin, Linchpin

Seth Godin has built a terrific career by giving us new lenses through which to view ourselves and our culture. He shown us all how to be marketers, leaders, and artists. I disagree with many of his generalizations and simplifications, but sometimes I read something from him that takes my breath away. The quote above certainly did.

Early in my career, I ran across Peter Drucker’s famous dictum “What gets measured gets managed.” Over the past many years, this has proven true more times than I can count. And yet, it begs some crucial questions:

  • Are we measuring the right things?
  • Are we measuring the right way?
  • How should we deal with immeasurables?

Seth reminds us the what is immeasurable is often more valuable than what we can quantify. He argues that if I can track it in a spreadsheet, so can my competitors. So what can be measured may not provide competitive advantage (roll with it a moment – yes, it’s a silly oversimplification, but that’s Seth’s world).

On the other hand, what cannot be measured (yet) is capable of transforming the world. How can we measure creativity in a meaningful way? How can we measure passion, engagement, or commitment? But isn’t it intuitively correct that these are the most important fuels for our modern economic engine?

These questions are particularly significant when trying to manage what Daniel Pink calls Motivation 3.0. As my friend Molly Rosen of The Working Chronicles points out, the dominant performance management systems were designed to fit the industrial world – Pink’s Motivation 2.0. They quantify extrinsic performance on scales of Core Competencies. There are two problems with this:

  • First, as Godin points out, what’s most important may not be quantifiable – and most evaluation systems assume that what cannot be quantified does not exist
  • Second, as Pink points out, systems that were designed for the industrial system are often counterproductive in our era of creative knowledge workers who are driven by intrinsic factors

What gets measured gets managed. If you want to evaluate me on 15 competencies and tie my compensation to that evaluation, you’ve got my attention. I will strive to perform. The problem is, you may be measuring the wrong thing, and losing both my engagement and my most valuable potential contribution by doing so.

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