2 kinds of measurement

Posted by on Jun 17, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment

Recently a number of conversations about understanding how things spread and how to measure this, there's one common misunderstanding I keep tripping over (my misunderstanding as much as my conversation partners). The reason for blogging on it today is that I think it has much broader resonance to all management and marketing metrics.

So what is this misunderstanding? It's a running together of two kinds of measuring activities and is best crystallised by Paul and Alex as the difference between Physicist measurement and Practical measurement. 

The former deals in precision, with describing a particular thing as closely as possible; the latter in classes of things, in understanding what kind of thing we have. 

The former is driven by measurement for its own sake and largely indifferent to the the thing being measured; the latter is interested in the thing being measured and shaping it.

The former is really useful for engineering activities; the latter for doing things. 

Of course, the latter requires a set of ideas about how the world is (a map, if you like), whereas the former assumes that measurement itself will reveal reality and indicated action.

Ask yourself when you next approach measurement which side of this divide you are on.

As Marx once commented about History and historians, the point of the game is not to describe the world (physics) but to change it. 

Pic of Marie Curie c/o Smithsonian

1 Comment

  1. Valeria Maltoni
    June 18, 2008

    It looks like we were both thinking about change today. Thank you for yet another thought-provoking post (do let me know when you’re in NYC). Looks like I am interested in the second kind of measurement. Then again, does something need to be measured to work? Just asking…