Co-author, "The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix"
Economists like to speak of incentives and contingencies; attach enough of the right sort of consequence to a market or work situation, and in most cases you will control the outcome. Operations research and human resource specialists apply this principle to managing performance when they advise businesses to quantify and track the important aspects of production, cautioning that we "manage what we measure." Accountants are wont to apply standard and accepted measurement practices to conduct assessments of value and changes in value. The parts of a business that cannot be described in standard ways are regarded as off balance sheet, and generally given less weight.
Reassuring as these discipline-based approaches may be on the surface, they too often miss the target entirely. The problem with applying such "folk wisdom" is that in complex situations involving people, politics and markets, the most important factors influencing outcomes and behavior are often beyond easy apprehension and description. This creates a rather significant dilemma, what might be called the "measurement paradox." Should you ignore or disqualify "fuzzy" but important data and measure what can be measured directly with precision and reliability, or should you base decisions and findings on terribly flawed, approximate or subjective observations?
As with many dilemmas of this kind where one is seemingly faced with two incomplete and often unsavory options (think of poor Abraham's choice - to sacrifice his son Isaac or to disobey God), the answer lies in somehow transcending given limitations and constraints to find a more suitable alternative at a higher logical level. Systems thinkers sometimes describe this as both-and rather than either-or thinking wherein elements of paradoxically opposed factors find a way to co-exist, and in so doing enrich rather than detract from understanding.
As scientists and serious researchers we want to apply the best tools of our trade in a rigorous and conscientious manner, but what do you do when the method misses the objective - when what you're measuring isn't what really matters the most. Kurt Lewin, author in 1951 of Field Theory in Social Science, and the original management consultant, made the sobering observation that the "the map is not the territory." Translated: Your tools may indeed be sharp, but are they the right tools to reflect what is really going on?
Go back in time a mere few thousand years and science and philosophy were one. In a fashion, Clem Bowman takes us again in this book to where the two disciplines usefully intersect, and offers methods that cut the Gordian Knot. With Gregory Bateson, he enjoins us to ponder questions of category rather than content, asking not only about how much of x is present, but how much more or less of it would constitute a difference that matters. To answer this, we need to address issues of meaningfulness and relationship that come before and create the context for measurement. In the words of one of my early mentors, Mathew B. Miles, author of Qualitative Data, an Attractive Nuisance, Clem Bowman is a "soft-nosed positivist," with one foot planted in the scientific methods and traditions of his training and the other equally firmly rooted in the murkier philosophical questions of meaning.
The outcome of his work as attested to in the case studies described in this book is a courageous and practical contribution to decision-making. If you buy certain premises.... that often the most important factors in tough evaluations are ignored or misrepresented because they are hard to measure, that in most, possibly all instances of complex decision-making there are two over-riding criteria that define the issue, and that by modeling these you increase clarity and quality of choice, then Clem and his colleagues at ProGrid are on to something powerful and much needed in a world of increasing complexity.
As one who regularly works in the margins, helping business leaders to make sense of important but often faint and vague market signals, I wholeheartedly accept these premises, and appreciate the contributions of ProGrid thinking to making those essential yet elusive intangibles a little more visible and measurable.