Three steps to measuring the intangible

Last week I talked about organisational culture being necessarily based on tangible things, even though it is superficially intangible. The thinking behind this was heavily influenced by Douglas Hubbard’s “How to measure anything”, because that is centred on measuring seemingly intangible things. So I thought it was about time I explained my interpretation of Hubbard’s process for measuring the seemingly intangible. For the real detail—and lots of questions answered—you really ought to read his book.

Step 1: Understand what “measurement” means

A crucial first step is to understand what it means to measure something—and if you’re uncharitable you might call this sleight of hand. Hubbard’s definition is:

A quantitatively expressed reduction of uncertainty based on one or more observations.

The crucial phrase here is reduction of uncertainty—not elimination of uncertainty. That means we only have to improve on our current state. We certainly don’t have to be perfect.

Step 2: Find the tangible observations

Assuming the thing we’re trying to measure matters (and if it doesn’t matter, why are we measuring it?) then it must make a difference in the real world. Again: if it doesn’t make a difference in the world, why are we trying to measure it? And if it does make a difference, then it there must be more or less of something. And if there’s more or less of something then it must be measurable.

So we need to think about what the tangible differences are in the physical world.

Step 3: Know why we want to measure

Answering “What decision do we want to support?” is Hubbard’s powerful question that will help us understand how much reduction of uncertainty is really necessary (from step 1), and what kind of tangible differences in the physical world are the ones that are relevant to us (from step 2).

Put together, these three steps help us take seemingly intangible things and make them much more meaningful. And when seemingly intangible things are translated into the tangible then we can act on them much more effectively.

Photo by Pulpolux !!!

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