Do These Quarterly Measures Make Me Look Fat?
"Only hot guys wait for their wives in places like this."
The text message from my wife was intended to salvage my ego as she went for her THIRD trip to the Ann Taylor dressing room. And of course, there was a line. A long line. She actually made me stand in this line once to save her place while she went on the hunt of an article of clothing. The women on either side of me weren't sure what to think of this bearish-looking bald guy standing in line to the women's dressing room. Shannon feigned apologetic just well enough to keep me in the store to do whatever bidding she deemed necessary.
Later, she explained that women's clothing sizes are so inconsistent across clothing makers that it makes it difficult to decide which size to select... hence, the multiple dressing room trips. An eight in one shop might be a six in another and it could be a twelve somewhere else. Hmmmmph. Sounds like some drug-induced new math to me. We men have it easy. Waist: 36 inches... which means in other shops... ummm... 36 inches. Inseam: 34 inches... which translates in other brands... to... uh... (wait, don't tell me) 34 inches.
In our quest to seize the accomplishment, we try to "sell" our ideas with numbers. Bad numbers. Irrelevant numbers. Silly numbers. But do we think about what we're trying to accomplish with these numbers. In systems thinking, we talk about feedback loops. What are the measures telling us about changing the inputs to get better outputs? Franke James posted a brilliant visual essay about the "real poop on social change" which gets at the heart of this very issue. Numbers that build awareness aren't enough; numbers have to motivate behavioral changes. Unfortunately, I don't see the women's clothing industry taking pity on a middle-aged "shopping buddy" husband. Darn.
My buddy Bob is actually my hero when it comes to interpreting data. When his wife asked him if "these pants made her look fat," Bob looked her straight in the eye and responded, "No, but your thighs do." (Bob is miraculously still breathing through both nostrils.) Still, there may be some wisdom to this as we look at our feedback loops to make changes to our organizational systems.