We focus on what we measure


For some time I have wondered about the effects of our economic system on people and businesses. Whether coaching people privately or in a business setting I encounter people with good intentions and a desire to change and improve. Why then do we have people who exploit each other or business leaders who put profit above all else? Do you ever wonder how people with very successful careers can be so unhappy? I see it as a measurement problem. 

Many businesses primarily measure their financial progress. I have also worked for corporations where the only thing I was measured by was how much profit growth I delivered. Not how I managed my team or the foundation I had laid for the future, only profit delivery. It is, therefore, no surprise to me that for some years now there has been a growing dissatisfaction by many good people in business. I speak to leaders in business all the time who see ways to improve their organisations but are stifled by such priorities as cost-cutting to improve shareholder value. We have dysfunctional organisations in part because what we measure is one dimensional. 

This phenomenon is not limited to business. We now live in an attention economy where endless people and things are competing for our attention. Young people are quickly learning that what matters in life is how many likes and followers they have. It was bad enough when we measured ourselves on assets and salaries but now we also measure ourselves against the number of great vacations and other experiences we can document for other people. We occupy our time with generating reactions from others in the virtual world and that fact that we measure this has diverted our focus from things that really matter to our happiness. 

What we measure matters and there are people who have woken up to this reality. Businesses have begun to look at the quality of their culture as well as their impact on the environment and their communities. Individuals have begun to look at the quality of life over value and square footage of their homes. For example, there is a tiny house movement where people downsize their homes to lower their costs, lower their environmental impact and allow more time for quality of life. If we begin to pay more attention to quality over quantity and how much time we have to spend over how much money, we will notice a significant increase in our happiness and life satisfaction.  

Do you have a way of measuring your happiness? It may be difficult to quantify but you can pay attention to how you feel and what things you spend time on that improve your mental and emotional state. If being in nature makes you feel good how much time do you spend on that? If helping others gives you a sense of purpose how much time to do spend on that? If you need a sense of connection to others what is the quality of your relationships? If you start to measure what you are spending your time on as well as the quality of the time you spend, your focus will likely shift to what is really important in life.